?

Village of Needham, England

11:10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Chosen because…it’s a Church of England church and has really cool tombstones in the church yard. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the official church name and it never opened for service.

I have a tiny little pea brain and can’t remember much of what I’ve written or read for that matter, which makes writing about the Bible without text or consistent church services fairly difficult. However, I do remember some things. I remember that Jesus and maybe God, are supposed to be with me at all times. I think that’s crap not because I make dumb decisions and find myself wallowing in sorrow wondering what the hell happened but because during this 2011 quest to experience as many churches as possible, I’ve had the damndest time actually being admitted to service.

I try this nameless church, which is surrounded by “Night of the Living Dead”-like gravestones but it never opens for the 11:15 a.m. service. I try everything short of knocking. No answer. Instead, I walk the grounds searching for ghosts, reading church bulletins and watching the cop in the adjacent Needham Coronation Village Hall parking lot talk to a female speeder who is wearing exercise attire, a rare sighting in England, and a blonde bystander who clearly wants to test his authority on a more personal level.

The churches here look the same. Cold. Ominous. Hard. The church bulletin is worn, the pre-Photoshop era graphics faded, text bleached. Among other things it says:

“1 in 5 older people skips meals to save money for heating.”

And: “Surely I am with you. Always to the very end of the age.”

I wonder if either are true, know the second isn’t. Babies get raped, children die and I can’t get into service. God is either flat out cruel or he has a fantastic sense of humor.

I Want My American Red, White and Blue

I don’t know about everyone else, but I hit a cultural sensitivity breaking point when I’m away from home for more than a month. I never have them during critical periods in travel. I won’t breakdown if I miss a train, can’t understand someone or am bamboozled into eating disgusting cuisine such as pig ear. No. My inner child throws tantrums during the most civilized, insignificant points in my trips, proving that like God who would let me in a church if he was with me every minute, maturity and cultural sensitivity are sporadically with me.

Sometimes I just loose the plot which is a snobby British way of saying I freak out and act like a child. Take the f(*#&^% savory biscuit incident. I calmly handled throwing used toilet paper in open trash bins in Colombia, a practice that doesn’t sit well with a germaphobe, but finding graham crackers in England prompted a hissy fit.

I’m too tired and hungry to go to the grocery store after my failed church experience but I go anyway because I have to eat. I turn into a five-year-old when I’m hungry so this is a bad decision. Before I get in the store I start cursing the English, silently of course. What kind of a country makes people check out grocery carts? It’s only a stupid pence or pound or some other frustrating, misshaped currency but it’s the principle – the wasted act of actually getting change and renting the trolley – that sets me off. I also hate all of the change currency bursting the seams of my wallet; the stupid “hiya” greeting (are you welcoming me or about to karate chop my face?); looking the wrong way when I cross a road; and walking to the bar to order a drink. I also can’t stand English castles. They’re nothing to look at and neither is Buckingham Palace, which is a glorified government building.

This sweet employee tries to help me, asks if the graham cracker is a savory biscuit or a sweet one, brings another employee into the conversation. I try to be calm. They’re nice, trying to help but they’re slow and cannot comprehend this long, sweet, brown cracker that breaks into two halves perfect for smooshing melted chocolate and a heated mallow. I want to tell him to shove his savory biscuit up his British ass but that’s insensitive so I do the mature thing and take my anger out on my shopping mate, who spends the next 20 minutes hiding out in an aisle far, far away from me.

Always to the Very End of the Age

Somewhere in me lies a culturally sensitive person but where she is, I don’t know. Maybe she’ll reappear in a few weeks, after I refresh myself in the states and head back out on the road where other things will amuse me until they become familiar. Maybe I’ll find her the next time God stays with his believers and, as the bulletin suggests, lets me into a church.

I can’t believe that God is with believers at all times and I’m starting to believe I may lose interest in traveling, seeking new experiences, using toilets outside of America and adapting to not having everything exactly as I want the it second I want it.

If we’re not with ourselves all the time, how can we let anyone else, least of all a controversial, possibly fictious figure be with us 24/7?

Advertisements

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Chosen because…went for Pentecostal but service times didn’t suit my needs so swapped it with another “al” denomination.

Well I Never

I’ll never stay in Colorado. I’ll never read the Bible. I’ll never go to church. I’ll never get married. I’ll never get divorced. Never say never. Lesson learned.

Since the Redeemer Lutheran experience, I’ve put my pissy pants on every Sunday morning, bitched and moaned all the way to church and resisted pre-service temper tantrums. But when I left St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, I was calm. Like abnormally, once-in-a-lifetime kind of calm. Why? Because it turns out that I’m getting dumber, not smarter and for that I’m grateful. I’m so sick of thinking.

Age: The Great Eraser

I don’t know anything about Episcopalians and that’s fine as knowledge taints experience. I love the church interior. Basic. A few stained glass windows. A cross draped in white cloth hanging from the ceiling. This is the first church I’ve been to with organ music, which I love. Very traditional. Love that too.

Service starts. A choir cloaked in white, wooden crosses hanging from necks, floats down the aisles. Priests or whatever take the stage. There are many. They have hoods on the back of their white robes. I’m not in the deep south or Michigan. I wipe KKK from the brain. During meet your neighbor the preachers step into the aisles, shaking hands as they go. I like this but am trapped between an old woman in a powder blue suit and a crabby note taker who nearly clips my toes every time she pulls down the prayer bar.

Most of the congregation will be chillin’ with God soon. Perhaps that’s why the preacher chose John 3:1 – 17. Here’s the story. This arrogant dude, Nicodemus, meets with Jesus at night because he’s ashamed to be seeking advice from a lowly country boy but he needs counsel so he does it anyway. Nicodemus thinks he knows everything but in his later years, after Jesus dies, he doesn’t say anything. He kicks his know-it-all attitude, which suggests that as we age we either lose our minds or realize we don’t know a damn thing about anything.

I believe it’s the latter. I’ve realized this in my own life, particularly within the last few months. I’ve ripped the blanket off some of my more gregarious opinions and stereotypes, but I still use “you’re wrong, you’re just wrong” when backed in a corner during arguments. Turns out I’m usually wrong, which I hate especially when my mom hauls out the dictionary as backup. You can’t argue with Merriam.

Never Say Never

I didn’t want to go to church, assumed it would suck, thought “I’ll never enjoy this” but like I said, it really chilled me out. I liked the sermon but I also didn’t feel any pressure to share my non-existent relationship with God with other people. I’m not sure I’ve gotten that from any other church.

Example. Rather than harping on Bible studies, the pastor focused on Foyer Groups, groups of eight-to-10 people who meet for dinner etc. to get to know each other. I like that. I need friends but I don’t want the Bible getting between us.

I never thought I’d use the prayer bar or reply to the preacher as outlined by the bolded text in the leaflet, but I did it. I kind of want to get baptized so I can receive communion. But I’ll never do it. I’ll never stick with organized religion. And I’ll never say things I don’t mean. Ever.

When kids stop believing the “you came from a stork” bit, parents are forced into the dreaded sex talk. I remember mine. It involved a picture book with a skinny male cartoon grinning on top of a lying on top of a fat female cartoon. I can’t remember if she was smiling. Both were naked. Traumatizing.

Dad was conspicuously absent for this conversation, but both of my parents discussed kids and religion, how they would handle it, etc. I knew dad attended Catholic school  — he has the scares to prove it — but before I started this project, I had no idea mom had faith in God. She doesn’t anymore.

To better understand my disconnect to religion, I interviewed both about their experiences with organized religion as well as their hands off approach to helping us find it.

Here’s what my mom had to say. (She said I misquoted her in a past blog. Bad journalist I suppose. We’ll see what she has to say about this one.)

Me: Did your parents raise you with religion?

Mom: For part of my life but it wasn’t the whole household. My mom was the one who started going to church when I was probably eight-to-10. I believe it was a Lutheran church. I kind of feel like this was an out-of-the-blue decision but I’m not sure. I went with her but I can’t remember if my siblings went.

My dad wasn’t ever interested in any religion. I feel like he was raised Italian Catholic and probably went to Catholic Church as a kid but I’m not for sure. I feel like he was neutral about church.

I don’t remember religion being a part of my life before that but I went to a Catholic Church with my aunt and uncle and I also went to Catechism class.

Q: You went to Bible camp with that Lutheran church and got saved. Can you talk about that?

A: I was saved at camp, which means you accept Jesus Christ. It was the most exhilarating emotional experience I’ve ever had in my life to this day.

The camp counselor, who was a teenage girl, asked me if I was ready to accept Jesus Christ as my savior. We were by ourselves and whatever words were said. I agreed to do it and it was like a rush of beauty that ran from my head to my toes.

I always had a very strong faith back from when I went to Catholic Church with my aunt and uncle and had a very strong belief in the whole Christian thing. I should have died then! I would have been guaranteed a place in heaven!

Q: What were your first thoughts of Jesus? Did you ever fear religion?

A: I don’t remember but I remember that at times I felt like I had a holy presence at the foot of my bed but they looked like the pictures that are on Catholic funeral cards (laughs) so I don’t know if it was spiritual or an overactive imagination.

I wasn’t fearful of Jesus, but I was fearful of going to hell.

After we stopped going to church, I held onto my beliefs. I said nightly prayers and for extra brownie points I would always pray to God to bless everyone I cared for and everyone in the world and I’d put myself last because I thought that was good manners.

Q: Did you feel faith had a positive impact on you?

A: Yes. I liked being a good girl and I’m sure it kept me out of trouble. One of my dad’s favorite expressions, as we all know, was Goddamn and I literally cringed whenever he took the Lord’s name in vain. All I know is that it (faith) personally made me feel good.

Q: What happened?

A: I had a strong belief until I went into high school and then our family started falling apart, started splitting, which in turn made other bad things happen in the family. It was dark and chaotic and I think I just quit saying my prayers and thought, what’s the point?

Q: So that’s it? No more religion?

A: I don’t know. I feel like I’m not an atheist or an agnostic. I’m a confusiest. I’m confused because I do believe it (faith) works for a lot of people and sometimes I do believe there’s got to be this greater something but there’s so many unanswered questions in the Bible that I just can’t really go by that.

Q: Did you and dad talk about religion before you had kids?

A: Yes. You know dad is a wounded former Catholic schoolboy so you know he had a pretty tainted view of religion but we both agreed that religion was a choice our kids should be able to make when they were mature enough to fully understand it.

I think when you start taking kids from birth and going to any kind of church, they’re just raised to believe something because their parents believe it. We wanted our kids to understand the different choices.

Q: I don’t remember you taking us to church so how did I have the opportunity to see the church side of things?

A: I think you were all asked at a certain age if you wanted to go. I think you and Taryn (sister) experienced some churchiness with friends.

I didn’t feel like going to church because I was unsure what my beliefs were and I thought, ‘How can I guide my children one way or the other?” I felt that would be extremely hypocritical on my part.

Q: What impact did this decision have on your kids/family?

A: I really feel horrible about the times I saw my kids have embarrassment over their lack of knowledge over really basic things like who is Jesus (laughs) and why do we celebrate Christmas.

Q: Are you serious or messing around?

A:  I’m serious. I do regret not exposing you guys to more but if I still had that opportunity now and was raising you kids, I still don’t know how I would do that. You don’t just dump your kids into church and say have fun. It would still be a slippery slope for me. I regret exposing you to more of it but I don’t know how I’d do that without believing myself. Besides, I always wanted a trio of heathens to join me.

Q: So how do you deal with things when life is challenging? Specifically as it relates to your kids?

A: Heavy drinking (laughs).

Q: What if one of us kids died tomorrow? What would happen to us?

A: Boy I really wrestle with this one. I want to believe there’s a forever after so we can all be there together someday. I just don’t know.

Q: What if I become a nun? Will you still love me?

A: That will never happen. They won’t have you.

Q: That never crossed your mind?

A: Yeah like it crossed my mind that I’d be an astronaut.

Scotty O’Brian’s, Loveland, Colo.

12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Notable Matter: Sponsored bar seats, each with an embroidered logo/namesake representing the donor.

I’m in la-di-da land and am therefore losing patience with Colorado dive bars. Dive bars should not include microbrews on tap. They should lack decor, serve characters and stick to bottles and cans like the Long Branch Bar in Laporte, Colo. But most of the Colorado dives have microbrews. I need to go back to the Midwest where there’s an abundance of good old fashioned dive bars, places where people go to get drunk off of $1 canned PBR beer. I yearn for blue-collar America.

I don’t believe the middle class is disappearing, it’s just become invisible. I’ve thought of this well before the whole national union uprising. I have my own opinions about that but I’ll keep them to myself.

America’s Struggling Middle Class

I love the middle class — blue-collar workers — which is why I love neighborhood bars, dive bars. But do I have to go to the Rustbelt, a region continually blamed for the nation’s economic meltdown, to find it? Until I head back to Michigan in May, I’ll keep trudging along to these Colorado “dives.” Colorado natives can’t even point me to dives because they don’t know what they are.

That being said, Scotty O’Brian’s is as divey as I’ve seen in a few weeks. Wooden façade, one window, long bar, narrow structure. It’s dark, six people watching basketball on two TVs. I’m relieved to see a race car event on one of the TVs, very middle America.

I walk in pissed off by my experience with the money mongering Redeemer Lutheran Church. (I invited Redeemer to respond to my scalding review of the church, but haven’t received a response.)

I’m a little testy with the young bartender. I’m not offended by his request for ID, but his delivery is off putting.

“You got your little thingy on you?” He makes a motion with his wrist indicating that by “thingy,” he means the little plastic card in my wallet. He justifies himself. “I have to ask. Otherwise my boss will get me in trouble.”

Me: “Or you could just say I look young.” My four second tutorial on women.

“You do look young.” He’s nervous.

I loosen up. Smile in the mirror at an older man in a blue work jacket and mesh hat. He’s drinking a beer and a shot, orders them together. He sees me and looks away.

The experience is dull until a younger man and woman walk in. They sit next to me. They’re new to the area and interesting, which is a fabulous find. I enjoy our conversation, it’s refreshing to speak with people that have imagination, passion, interesting things to say.

As much as I enjoy their company and hope to see them again, they are not blue collar workers, Middle America. Where do I find this in northern Colorado? What am I missing?

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

11 a.m. to ?

Chosen because…late service

Biggest church I’ve been to.  It sits in a giant field surrounded by wealthy neighborhoods. Not only does it have a welcome center, which gives makes me feel like I’m walking through an airport rather than a church, it also has a worship center, life/center gym, preschool, student center, etc.

I’m grateful for the coffee/donut room. Guilt kicks in so I donate $1 to the coffee collection. This is the only donation I’ve made to a church thus far. After service I feel duped, used and wish I could take my money back.

Love Money, Then Jesus

Remember this scene from Jerry Maguire? This is Redeemer Lutheran Church.

JERRY MAGUIRE SHOW ME THE MONEY


The preachers or whatever are dressed in white, red sashes resting on either side of their chests. Huge choir. Massive movie screen. Many people wearing buttons purporting their love for Jesus. At least I think that’s what they’re for.

It’s “commitment weekend,” a time for parishioners to place donation envelopes they received via mail in Pottery Barn-like donation baskets. Before they do, the preacher fills them with artificial love, hiding the church’s need for greed behind Bible passages such as “whoever does not love God does not know love.”

When the preacher quiets, this message is conveyed, falsely — though song — and soundtrack as people in the sound booth add thunder and other such nonsense to the melody.

After guilt by love, the preacher gets down to business. This whole love B.S. will continue for 36 months because the church is on a mission to a) Raise up stewards b) Pay down debt c) Further the mission.

So learn about God, pay down the Redeemer Lutheran‘s $2 million debt during the next 36 months and then spread God’s word through costly missions. Appalling.

Need for Greed

He uses the following mantras to encouraging giving…and love.

“Love is not really love until it’s given away.”

“I hope you get to learn during this season we get to give love away.”

“We don’t want to whore the message of God.”

Then we watch a clip from Schindler’s List. It’s at the end when Schindler realizes the money he spent on material excess could have saved thousands of Jews.

People sniffle. It’s an emotional scene and a cleaver way for the preacher to beg for money. After the clip, he invites everyone to bring up envelopes of money, encouraging them to “woo hoo” when they dump it in Pottery Barn-like baskets.

I’m sick to my stomach. This place of worship is an infomercial, not a church. I leave and head to a dive bar in Loveland of all places, to cleanse my soul.

The leaders of this church should be ashamed of themselves for their unabashed call to greed. Redeemer Lutheran Church is antithetical to Jesus’ message. It’s disgusting.

Might be a Mennonite

February 21, 2011

Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship, Fort Collins, Colo.

10:30 a.m. to noonish

Chosen because…I’m fascinated with buggies and bonnets

I love Mennonites. At least the ones I met at the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship. They’re friendly and as far as I can tell, they view Jesus as a symbol of peace, not a vehicle for judgement.

Now, on the judgment front…

I saw my first Mennonites at a Taco Bell in Fort Collins. The girls were darling in bonnets and homemade dresses. I assumed the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship parking lot would be full of buggies, men in cute hats and suspenders helping bonneted women to the street. Giddy, I thought, “Try not to make an ass of yourself by immediately asking about the buggies and bonnets.”

I’m not sure why these Mennonites are singing in a subway, but this is what I thought my Sunday would be like.

Mennonites Singing on a Subway

In a group of less than 30, I found one bonnet. I should have known. The Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship site addresses bonnets, notes they’re not the norm. Another newbie asked about bonnets and horses. The people he asked politely chuckled and explained.

So who attends the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship? Very chill people. Very Colorado looking people — jeans, Merrells, outdoor wear. I felt like I was at a peace rally. A bell kicked off service. Two girls — one barefoot — lit a candle with this long thing, the one without shoes nearly clipped the other’s face with the flame. Then some acoustic guitar, a bit about Haiti, sermon or talk, bell, discussion, refreshments.

Mennonites Hit No. 1 on Church Billboard Chart

The Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship is No. 1 on the ThumpMe billboard chart because they do peace and acceptance. They’re open-minded. In fact, I found them by going to www.gaychurch.org, curious as to which churches are cool with homosexuals.

While homosexuality wasn’t discussed (I believe David was gay), the Sermon on the Mount was. Mennonites believe Jesus’ word trumps all others, including angry God and confused prophets. The speaker talked about going beyond religious laws to uncover deeper meaning. Does it really make sense to take in all the wretched souls and then condemn them for committing adultery simply because they looked at another woman? No it doesn’t and that’s why I love the Mennonites. They are what I think people who proclaim to follow Christ should be — emissaries of peace and understanding.

The speaker asks, “If your religion does not go beyond, what is it?”

Nothing.

Observations

The bulletin said “we are all ministers in the fellowship” and included quotes from Buddha, which is confusing, all inclusive and quite a bit different than my southern Baptists. Two individuals knitted during service, one worked on a laptop, one read a book. Very laid back.

After the sermon/lesson, they opened the floor to discussion. Discussion! I couldn’t believe it. No one said much, but encouraging opposition nearly knocked me out of my chair.

At the end, we held hands and said a prayer which was way uncomfortable for me but whatever. I think I heard a bongo or some other instrument I associate with freedom, but can’t remember.

NOTE: I don’t have a photo of this church. I once again left a piece of clothing in a public place — my jacket, restaurant  — and was without a camera.

I Get It — Get Wet

January 31, 2011

Cheyenne Christian Center, Cheyenne, Wyo.

9:20 to 9:59

Chosen because…mobility

I was sick to my stomach Sunday morning so after much deliberation (and chunky vomit) I decided to stay home.

Lucky for me, divine intervention flew down the morning before. Saturday, my dad and I went to breakfast. As we were leaving the place that likely gave me food poisoning, I found the Cheyenne Christian Center “2 Church Ordinances — Water Baptism & Communion” CD in a newspaper bin. What are the odds?

Head on pillow, I pop that baby into my computer and, according to iTunes, prepared to listen to “Uber Die Aufgaben Des Schriftstellers in Unserer Zeit” on the “Wirkliche Leben in Verlorenen Landern” disc. Poorly translated this means, “On the Tasks of the Writer in Our Time” in “Real Life Lost Countries.” Interesting.

Disc intro includes heavy breathing and a few “amens.” I think, “Damn, this is a cover for some sort of soft core German porn. How will I relate muffled foreign slang to Sunday service?”

The Mystery of the Dunking Unveiled

The sermon is not about porn, it’s about Passover, a time for Jews to celebrate their freedom from Egyptian bondage. Although Passover is a few months off, this is a timely discussion since there’s a minor tiff occurring in Egypt and Syria.

According to the pastor, Passover and baptisms, which I fear, go hand in hand. Thank God for that because it answers a question no one has answered. That is, why do baptisms require submersion? Answer: Symbolism.

Apparently the dipping is a choice. It symbolizes faith in Christ; receiving the sacraments of grace; turning into a new person; and walking with the privileges of the covenant. The water is celebratory. These are the details I need to jump over some of my Biblical stumbling blocks.

I have an answer to baptisms, but I still don’t know why people writhe on the ground and speak in tongues to demonstrate their connection to the Holy Spirit. I also don’t know why pastors discuss the number of people in the Bible saved by baptism, but gloss over the number of those God killed.

Remission

The pastor plants a new idea in my head — Remission and forgiveness are not the same.

“Remission is stronger and means to send away. It signifies the release of bondage or imprisonment, a sending away and forgiveness is an added quality of canceling out judgment, punishment, obligation or debt.”

And Jesus’ blood allows for remission. This makes me reconsider the blood and body of Christ…

He says resurrection is a timeout, a “hey, despite the stuff we talk about every week, it all comes back to the foundation of sacrifice.”

I think about this. I have an epiphany. I thought my inability to sacrifice was my greatest weaknesses but, I’ve sacrificed happiness for selfishness and broken my own heart. That’s gotta count.

The pastor says, “We do things out of habit rather than out of understanding and worship.”

Makes me think about “I love you” as automation, not emotion.

Take Away

Sermon via iTunes is a bad way to worship. It’s too distracting and impersonal. Looking forward to getting my butt back in a pew.

*Next week’s Bible entry may come from this CD or an on-line service. I want to diversify my church selection but I’ll be en route to Abu Dhabi Friday and since most religious services are held Friday (Christians included), I may improvise. Men, I may hit you up for some background information regarding sports

Down and Out in Arkansas

January 26, 2011

Ohio Club, Hot Springs, Ark.

5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Notable Matter: Prominent photo of Al Capone, to bathroom says “Grandpa’s Workshop”

I fell in love with Arkansas the moment I crossed the state line and saw a man with a Jason mask four wheeling along the shoulder of the highway against the flow of traffic.

I drove from Tennessee to Hot Springs, Ark. to salve my wounded soul and aching body, which had, more or less, been in a car for two weeks.

Hot Springs, Ark. is known for its eight bathhouses however, the women at the tourism office and the guy at the hotel had no idea when the city’s major attractions closed. Arkansas.

The Ohio Club

I go to the Ohio Club after soaking in the baths. I’m wrong. It isn’t a dive. I ask for directions to a dive bar. They are withheld. Strangers are more concerned with my safety than I am. I stay.

I love this bar. It was gangster hangout and I love gangsters. Al Capone, Bugs Moran and Owney Madden loved the springs and gambled, drank and philandered at the Ohio Club during prohibition.

Despite the great atmosphere — 1920s décor, mahogany bar, mezzanine level perfect for stripping — and the club’s sordid history, I can’t talk to anyone. I’m depressed, have to think about some stuff. Mind goes back to the bathhouse.

Bill, Boob, B…

Every state lays claim to something — world’s largest prairie dog, largest ball of twine, etc. Hot Springs, Ark. is the hometown of Bill Clinton, the country’s most publically excitable president. It is also home to the world’s largest natural breast. I know. I saw it.

I walk into the bathhouse. Four pools, varying temperatures. Pass on the middle pool, which is behind a full length, glass display wall. Pass on the left pool, too cold. Three fat, hairy old men in the right pool, a couple sucking face in the upper pool. I choose the old guys. Don’t need love in my face.

Notice a group of large women sitting in chairs, watch them, listen to their accents. Watch in horror as one woman’s swimming suit gradually succumbs to the weight of her left breast. She notices when the suit hits mid-nipple. I tell myself I’ll be OK. I’ve been to nude beaches, seen other breasts. I will recover.

But then…a middle-aged woman who is au natural walks into my bath. Until she sits, her curls and my eyes parallel. I want to flee. Don’t want to be rude. She talks. I think of germs.

I relax. She’s cool. Traveling to Arizona with her partner for an RV festival. Partner’s  Each has a daughter. One on each coast. I want to join them. Don’t ask. Have to tend to a minor task called figuring out my life.

The Ohio

Thinking about the bathhouse pulls me out of my funk. Put away pad, pull hair back. Ask owner to recommend a Baptist church. She looks at me funny. Asks man at the end of the bar, request passes every mouth.

Woman: “Honey what are you writing?”

I tell her about the project, make it known I’m not a Baptist.

“Honey, I’m Pentecostal you can go to church with me.”

Man laughs.

“I was thinking Baptist would be good since I’m in the south.”

“Oh you’re in Baptist country. They’re crazy you know.”

Man: “Don’t tell them you don’t believe.”

Woman: “Oh God no.”

“Why?”

“They’ll make you go to the front of the church so they can convert you and you’ll probably have to stay up there and sing.”

“Seriously?”

Woman: “Don’t listen to him.”

They say 90 percent of the community “goes to church,” which means they think they’ll be saved if they show up a few times a year. The woman yells down the bar that I don’t believe. The only atheist in town comes over. We talk about science, his experience with the Church of Christ, the reason he stopped believing.

Lesbians and atheists in Arkansas. Interesting.

Suck Me in and Spit Me Out

January 24, 2011

Grand Avenue Baptist Church, Hot Springs, Ark.

11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Parking Lot Sign: “You are now entering your mission field.”

Chosen because…”You’re in Baptist country honey.”

For the majority of my eight-hour drive from Tennessee to Arkansas, I fantasize about this church experience. Small Baptist church in a field of sunshine. Large black women in robes singing in the choir. As the only white person, I stick out and after service, the women embrace me, invite me to a picnic. The pastor’s wife asks me to stay at their house for undetermined amount of time. I ask them about racism, get it on film documentary style. I’ve seen too many movies.

Woke up early. Asked white desk clerk how to get to the church. Said he didn’t have a phonebook (?!). I should ask the black bellhop. Awkward, did it anyway. Old white maid gave me directions.

“Is this OK to wear to a Baptist church?” Concerned about jeans and tennis shoes.

“Honey, as long as your dressed I don’t think they’ll give a damn.”

Suck Me In

Church is in large part about community and I loved this community. Over perfumed women walk to my pew, squeeze my shoulders, cup my hands, talk to me in those darling southern accents. Swoon.

No one looks at my shoes but then again, the man next to me has a Band-Aid in the middle of his forehead. I’m second tier entertainment.

First up, a baptism. Dressed in white, the pastor ascends to a spotlighted platform six feet above the choir and dunks a teenager. Creepy. Too much power. The pastor magically disrobes, descends, sits with kids on the stairs like Mr. Rogers and says, “Committing yourself to Christ means you’re willing to do something just a little bit weird.”

Asks those needing prayer to raise their hand. I want to raise both hands and legs, but I’m writing. Pastor invites people to pray at his feet. Men join him and they cry. Heaving shoulders. I cannot stand seeing grown men cry, especially if I’m the source of the pain. I want to hold them but they’re burly and I know I can’t assuage their pain so I cry.

Emotional pain manifests itself physically. When I start to cry, my left calf cramps. I lean down to rub it and smash my forehead on the pew back in front of me. This gets some attention. I turn red.

Spit Me Out

Then the sermon: “The Invisible War, Spiritual Warfare.”

The pastor talks about using prayer as a weapon against evil we can’t see — devils, warlocks, etc. The next eight weeks are devoted to this topic. Not only does he use the Bible and prayer as a weapon and religion as warfare, as he speaks his face changes, it’s almost demonic and every time he wants the congregation to “mm hm,” “amen” or laugh, he cups a hand to his ear.

One of the men in my pew sees me taking notes and gives me “The Invisible War: What Every Believer Needs to Know about Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare” by Chip Ingram.

“Here, you can take your notes in here. There’s plenty of room for note taking.”

Though I’m a heathen, I respect my elders. I take it so as not to hurt his feelings.

Take Away

I’ll go to a Southern Baptist bakeoff or chili cook off for community but faith by fear is not cool.

If the pastor wants views faith as war against the spiritual world fine. That’s his opinion. I can accept that. But would he accept mine? Unlikely.

Note: I apologize if this blog is subpar. I’m in hellhole Nebraska, kid behind me needs a spanking. I didn’t sleep last night, GPS broken, no atlas, headed into a storm, 14 hours to go.

Mountain View Community Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

10 a.m. to 11: 30 a.m.

Chosen because…it’s small, my mom considered buying it years ago and I spent many a night jumping off the roof of a neighboring house to hang from a rope swing. Genius, I know.

Warmup

Getting out the door is rough. Mom straightening my clothes, touching my hair, thinks I’ve never dressed myself. Feels like the first day of school. Notice six-inch rip in upper thigh of my leggings. Don’t want to get in a tête-à-tête with mom regarding how hemline dictates whether an outfit requires leggings or tights. Instead, I change my outfit and get in the car. Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitter” playing. I consider feeling bad for agreeing with the following verse, which I love.

“Been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding.”

I think better of it, continue thinking of stupid people breeding, figure church will help. Drive up. Sigh of relief. Young couples, families and teenagers walking up the steps. Fine with meeting my neighbor who is young, cool, interesting and sweet.

The Message

I like the message. Condemnation. Conviction. Cleansation (pastor admits to creating this word). We condemn ourselves when we do something wrong, feel unworthy of God’s love or, for us non-believers, the love of others. Rather than confessing, we cover it up or blame someone else.

I feel good. I don’t have an issue with condemnation or conviction. I do not blame others for my issues and confess everything to everyone. I think for a second, realize this is good for me but problematic for others. It damages relationships and, thanks to keypad confessions, has me looking into international journalism law, specifically defamation of character.

The pastor says “confession brings hope.”

I disagree and have another thought. Do I confess my sins to the entire blogosphere because I’m honest or do I do it because it takes the weight of sin off my shoulders and dumps it on someone else? For me, does confession bring hope? No. It begets relief. Something to think about. Hard.

I lose the pastor during cleansation. This is the point where belief collides with lack thereof. Cleansation requires faith in God or Christ. I don’t have it.

The Pews, My God the Pews

Next week I’m strapping a body pillow around my chest and wearing three layers of Depends to prevent pew pain. The pastor mentioned removing ourselves from our flesh. I have difficulty doing this anyway and sitting in a pew with a tense back, bra clasp digging into my spin, butt bones on fire, does not help.

Churchgoers: Why are pews so miserable?

Take Away

I would go back to this church. I liked the people, the size and the message. No donation platters. Pastor referred to judgmental believers as the “so called religious.” Loved that. Was uncomfortable with the baptism of two high school girls who were dunked in a waterhole hidden behind a wooden door. The Baptism, not the church, made me uncomfortable.

I felt better after church and thanks to some divine radio intervention that put Bob Marley in my head, I stopped thinking about stupid people breeding and thought about sunshine, snowboarding and enjoying life.

As BM says:

Most people think great God will come from the skies, take away everything and make everybody feel high. But if you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth; and now you see the light.”

Yes, there was an attitude shift after church experience No. 1 but I don’t know what/who was responsible. I can’t relate it to God, but does it really matter what it is if it improves your life?

P.S. The title of my last post was “Though Shalt Not Judge.” I changed it to “Thou.” If you see glaring mistakes, please let me know. I’m a novice.

%d bloggers like this: