This is why I think church kind of sucks

This past Sunday, we the Steens decided to go on a small road trip. We needed to go to Five Guys, Target, etc.

 

So we went, after convincing my Mom to loan us her car (we take her car on trips like that because it gets good gas mileage and is always clean).

 

In my mom’s car, I found a copy of a recent bulletin from her church. While I was somewhat afraid that my blaspheming fingers might cause it to burst into flame, I looked over it. 

 

Josh noticed the blurb pictured below, and he observed that the Brittany Settle mentioned would have been in school with our friend Marty.

 

So I did some research. Because I’m a trouble stirrer.

 

In 1991, Brittany Settle was indeed given an assignment for a term paper. The teacher was clear in her terms: pick whatever you want to write about, get it approved, and then write about it.

 

So Brittany chose her topic. She chose the topic of “drama,” which I can only assume meant things like traveling troupes and Globe Theatre and the like.

 

Then, for whatever reason, she changed her mind. She decided to write about Jesus instead. I can only imagine the reasoning. Maybe she thought it would be easier, maybe she knew she had a good paper in her brain, bred from years of Bible verses and Sunday School.

 

She decided to change topics and she wrote what I’m sure was an excellent paper. 

 

However, she never got the change approved. She didn’t give her teacher any heads up at all, and so when she turned in what was supposed to be a paper about actors and dramatics and it was instead about Jesus, she failed.

 

It’s a lesson I learned in about the fifth grade – you don’t follow directions, you fail your shit.

 

The fact that the situation then escalated to court dates and appearances on church bulletins two decades later is just a little ridiculous.

Today

Today is Election Day.

People all over will go and vote yea or nay or red or blue.

And I live in Mississippi, where the only time we make national news is because we gave birth to Elvis/Oprah/Britney/a million fantastic southern writers or because we’re the fattest state.

Well, now we have a new claim to fame – today we vote on Initiative 26, and if it passes, it’s a big deal. It’s a precedent for the whole country.

Now, I have opinions about this. Of course I do.

For just a minute, though, let’s not talk about what I think. Let’s talk about what this will mean.

Less birth control, in a state with the highest number of counties (17) featuring 40+% infant poverty. Not to mention the infant mortality rate (10.5 infant deaths out of every 1,000 live births), or the scads of children waiting in foster homes or institutions so they can be placed.

Fertility treatments….sure, as long as they don’t involve selective implantation or frozen embryos.

Raped? Pregnant? You carry that asshole’s baby because the law says so.

There are far reaching consequences regarding ectopic and molar pregnancies that I don’t even have the stomach to research (this is not hard hitting reporting, people).

Under this law, the miscarriage I suffered in January of 2008 may well have been the death of me, because only an abortion stopped the bleeding and saved my life.

The thing that bothers me about this is not that people disagree with my sentiment that this is one of the most offensive pieces of legislation I’ve ever heard. People disagree with me all the time.

No, what bothers me is that there are fifty bintillion churches who – over and over and over – have pounded into the hearts and minds of their faithful followers that this initiative is penned directly from the heavens. That by voting yes, they are personally winging their way into each Mississippi womb and cuddling thousands of fertilized eggs that may or may not become people.

It bothers me that if my preteen niece gets assaulted and molested, there won’t be a morning-after pill just in case. Her life could change and it wouldn’t have been her choice at all.

I respect the right of everyone to believe what they want. I do not respect anyone telling me how I have to believe and behave. Especially when they do it simply because a pulpit told them that was the right thing.

So go vote. If you live in Mississippi, please know what you’re voting for.

On a lighter note, tomorrow we’ll have a guest post from Lindsey at Campfire Song. This will be totally fun, you’ll see. She even mentions maxipads.

Looking back. Reflection and stupidity

I was doing some reading earlier – reading of old entries and how things have changed and not.

I found this post, and it made me think about a lot of things.

It’s almost exactly a year later, and things are so much different that they’re kind of startlingly the same.

As far as God and purpose and meaning go, I’m still kind of lost. The hit our faith and confidence took during our time in Jackson was severe, and to be honest I’m not sure we’ll ever fully recover.

We were so sure we were doing the right thing.
We were so happy, and then we were miserable.

But now? Not in a million years did I ever think we’d be where we are now.

Well, not really physically “where we are,” because really all of us living together is pretty much an epic adventure and it’s become second nature to us all.

But where we are in the sense of goals and progress and general good will toward humanity.

I was sure when we left Jackson that we’d never fully be happy and fulfilled ever again.

Dramatic, sure, but cut me some slack I WAS GROWING A PERSON.

If I could do and say anything I wanted, I’d say things to those people we left.

I’d say to Ellie, thank you for hiring me. You were more of the face of good in our months in Jackson than anyone else we met. You meant more to me in those days than I can ever say.

I’d say to Michaele, you are me with red hair and better boobs. I miss you more than anything and I would never have made it without you.

I’d say to Jackson commuters – really? Suck it up and put down that bowl of Cheerios when you’re going 80 down the interstate. Eat a damn granola bar if you’re that hungry.

I’d say to Priest 1 – you were the biggest disappointment. When we met, you were awesome and inspiring. You were hip and down to earth and we both loved you immediately. The confidence we both felt in you – as a person, as a priest, as a friend – was completely cracked and really disheartening. You never seemed like a lap dog…until you were.

I’d say to Priest 2 – I reached out to you. I needed you. And when you ignored that? I have never felt that degree of worthlessness. I trusted too much in what I needed you to be.

And to Priest 3? I could fill a book. The level of hypocrisy and disillusion that I equate with you now is staggering. I don’t know what I believe comes after this life – I don’t know if I believe we just end, or if we go on…

But if we go on? If there are saints and angels and streets of gold? I don’t want to be there if you are. Whatever Paradise is supposed to be, you can’t be a part of it and it still be Paradise.

so there it is.

I suppose I’m still bitter (who am I kidding), but I’m also hopeful. I never thought I’d have that again.

I do. We do. And I think that’s the best revenge.

art shamelessly stolen from Natalie Dee

This won’t be earning me any friends

Generally I refrain from posting things I know will upset or irk people.

I suppose that’s not really true.

But given the general temperament of my Facebook feed, this may raise hackles.

Meh.

Last week, we were fully immersed in getting ready for the return to school. Backpacks detrashed, lunchboxes found. Ava’s obnoxious feathers placed.

Late one afternoon, I received a call from the number I have saved in my phone as “AUTOMATED SCHOOL DEMON” – the number that calls when roads are flooded, a kid has disappeared, or cattle are loose. I turned on the speaker (but didn’t speak – I’ve caught myself talking to that machine too many times and now I’m wise to the game), expecting a reminder about not bringing guns or knives, or maybe a last minute nevermind-school-is-postponed-forever message.

Instead I got a recorded message inviting me not to forget about the upcoming “prayer walk” for parents of kids in the schools.

Now let me make one thing very, very clear.

If you are a kid in school and you want to say a prayer before you eat your lunch or take a test or walk on linoleum, I support that.

If you are a teacher and you want to send up a silent plea for mercy before you try and explain the branches of government, I support that.

If you want to bring your prayer rug and face Mecca between classes, I say go for it.

If you want to organize an event where people who are so inclined walk the halls and sidewalks of the school and pray for the students who will soon be present, I’m all for it! Bathe the desks and walls in prayer, and maybe that way my kids won’t eat boogers or mouth off (I may find religion if that works).

I will defend your right to do these things until my very last breath.

What I do not support is the use of school equipment, funds, and information to promote a religious function.

I never said, “Hey, sure, keep me posted about your rituals and gatherings.”
I didn’t say that because chances are I’m not coming.

It’s not because I don’t believe in God or I hate all religion or I think everyone should know that they know that they know whether they’re going to The Hell or not.

It’s because school is for LEARNING ABOUT THINGS THAT AREN’T RELIGION.
It’s because my son has already teared up more than once because he’s afraid his parents are going to hell.

Church is for religion.
Church schools are for the people who want everything to line up with what they believe.

School is not church. Amen.

I would rethink my stance if, say, I knew everyone’s beliefs would be equally welcomed. If the Muslims wanted to have a Q&A. If the Jews wanted to explain all the candles. If Pentecostals wanted to demonstrate hairspray usage. If the Mormons wanted to model Jesus underwear.

But that’s not happening. At least not here, because the vast majority of people believe the same way.

And that’s fine. What you believe is your business.

It’s when it starts being shoved at me and make it my business that I start caring.

I realize it’s election time and the superintendent was making sure everyone got catered to so as to put a good face on his campaign.

But just because the majority of people won’t care about the prayer walk phone call, or may even celebrate it, doesn’t make it okay. I’m not even sure it’s legal.

So please, pray. Fast. Sing. Speak in tongues.

Just don’t make me listen. Or watch. Or use the money I pay in taxes to promote it.

And in return, I will refrain from being an ass. Kind of.

Or not.

Writing Prompt #287

Use these two metaphors in a poem: “an inch of scorn” and “a cradle of beliefs”

It was never easy being the one who was different.
Never a sigh out of place but a gut filled with longing
Somewhere I knew there would answers abound
But I was behind. Blind.
Out of touch.
There were things to say
Bursting to be born from my thoughts
But they wouldn’t have listened.
They would have read their preferred reaction
In their leather bound books of exclusion,
nestling back into the cradle of their belief
Assured that they would come out the winners.

And where it hurt me before,
Shattered the shell I’d constructed
Left open and raw,
Now it was healing.
Replacing the ache for approval,
I look down and sideways,
Never allowing one
Within an inch of my scorn.

There could be another way,
Soothing and warm,
Buttered over with forgiveness and acceptance
But we seem to prefer ice
Sharp words and looks
And separating the different
From the different
In another way.

Writing Prompt #343



Start your story with this line: Her laugh broke the silence.

Her laugh broke the silence out of nothing – she hadn’t known it was coming or been able to stifle it.

Everything froze, and from the lowered kneeler levels behind sixty pews, every eye in the room sought her out.

The back of her neck burned with the effort of stillness, and she leaned into herself as if in earnest prayer while the tissues in her hand suddenly grew moist. Inches away, her sister’s stifled laughter at her discomfort shook through the wooden seat of the bench.

After a few cleansing breaths she dared to peek.

Everyone was still staring.

What the hell? Did everyone get a memo? Normal people pretend stuff like that never happened. What’s wrong with these people?

She closed her eyes again and waited. Surely music had to start, ashes and incense, wine and wafers…right?

Surely they couldn’t be waiting for her to acknowledge her misstep. And why had she laughed anyway? It was a sad occasion, stiflingly so. The woman up there would soon be reduced to the contents of an urn. She had loved her so. Even thinking about it now, her breath caught and she felt the tears return.

And with the tears, another laugh. Echoing off the walls and windows and caught in her throat all at once. The eyes, already watching her, grew wider.

Stop it, stop it, stop it, WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

It was like the clock of awkward had reset itself and now something had to be done or they’d all be sitting in accusatory silence for hours. These people must have knees of steel.

Somewhere, mercifully, an organ began to play softly.

She took advantage of the distraction by banging her ankles in the escape from the kneeler, keeping her eyes down and moving quickly.

Looking back before ducking out the door, she thought of how amusing her laughter would have been to the one they were all there to honor. Maybe it was a message. A wink from the beyond.

What had they done? Why was it all about them?

She made her way into the sunshine, laughing until she cried.

We’ll always have the Sacristy

To tell the honest truth (as opposed to the other kind), I’m at a bit of a loss.
I won’t stay that way for long, because there are so many thoughts in my head. In my heart.

When I first met you, I was sure that you’d end up being someone else to get on my nerves because let’s face it, pretty much everyone does.

But I learned (quickly, like the next day when you breezed through and yelled, “I gotta go on a liquor run before communion on Sunday, anybody running short? Jesus is payin’!” ) that you were not to be anything that I would have expected.

You came in every Monday to sign the checks and get the scoop. Sometimes you’d stay for hours because we’d get caught up in telling stories and chatting about pretty much any topic we could think of.

You know the line from Steel Magnolias, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me?”

That was you. To the bone. And it brightened my day so many times.

Every image I have of the true Southern lady I have because of you. You carried handkerchiefs, draped your hairdo with a brassy scarf, wore sunglasses as big as my head. Your big luxury car. Bridge and beauty parlor on Fridays. Dirty jokes in the church office, always prefaced with, “Now Emily don’t you tell anybody I said this. I’ll deny it.”

I told you so many things. Secrets. Quandaries. Decisions I had to make.

You always had advice.

You told me about lingerie modeling when you were young, because you were unapologetically “a total babe, Emily!”

When I had to leave, we both cried. You were the hardest part of leaving.

I used to call you on the weekends, during the long child-custody swap drives. You kept me in the know and never failed to tell me how much you wanted us to come home.

I should have kept in touch more. I should have written cards and notes.

The last time I saw you I asked about the office and everything I’d left.

“It’s working, I guess…but…it’s not the same. It’s not the same at all.”

I hope one day I can be as wonderful as you. You were a lady, a love, and one of my dearest friends.

It won’t be the same, Miss Lynn. Not the same at all.

I’ve changed.

Kind of in keeping with yesterday’s post, I’ve been doing some introspection.

I went through some pictures, remembered some people and places.

I’m so much different. So much has changed.

Before, I was so unsure of myself. I was unfocused and judgmental. I had a narrow view that only encompassed the things I knew to be right and sure. I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I wanted so badly to be in love, but I had no idea what it was like to love myself.

Some things haven’t changed. I’m still insecure. I’m still unfocused, and while I try to keep them at a minimum I can’t swear that judgmental thoughts never skirt my mind.

But I can say that my views are no longer narrow. I know how to love, and judgment mostly comes from the completely opposite side that it would have come from before. While I’m still not perfect, I like to think that I’ve made some giant leaps.

I’ve always heard that people don’t change. If that’s true, then I…well, I know that’s not true. I could tell you deep dark secrets to prove my point, but that’s not really the point. And besides, I don’t really have any deep dark secrets. Does anyone? I mean really, with Facebook and twitter and what have you, everyone’s life is pretty much an open book.

I’ve often wondered how my life would’ve panned out if the Internet and texting and social media were as prevalent when I was a teenager/college student as they are now. Basically I knew even then that I was way cooler hiding behind a screen than I am in person, so that’s why I jumped on with ICQ and AOL IM as soon as I could. Too late, though. Too late.

I say all this to say that people do change. In light of that knowledge, I wonder just how far I can go and still be me.

Pick a You

This is a repost from several years ago, but it’s always been one of my favorites. I suppose I could assign it some grand current significance, but the truth is it’s late, I’m tired, and I was reading through my archives the other night and I remembered how much I liked this post.

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It was never my intention to become someone I wouldn’t like.

Growing up in the ditches of red Mississippi mud, I was taught that happiness was a Sunday morning song, a memorized verse, and a pristine pair of white socks encased in patent leather Mary Janes.

I rode the bus home from school, and I remember the smell. Like pee and mud and the back of sweaty little boy necks. I remember the spongy stickiness of the plastic green seats, and the high backs that I used to write on with pencil erasers. The one family of four or five kids who always sat in the first two seats, and who wiped boogers on the backs of the seats…they left a lingering odor in those seats, so even after they got off the bus within the first ten minutes of the ride, no one sat there. No one wanted to smell the wake or look at the boogers. I sat in a seat about ¾ of the way back, and I didn’t talk to many people. I don’t know why.

The first few years of busriding, there was a girl, older than me, named Maria. She had huge hair and lots of makeup and she would write “Turk 182” on the fogged windows on rainy days. I never questioned what she said, what she wore, or why this obviously-in-high-school girl was riding the bus home from school instead of catching a ride with a friend, or even driving herself. I never even spoke to her. Years later, when she showed up at my church on my way out (during my faithless years, when I realized that perhaps the darkly-stained Baptist pews weren’t quite seats on the only passenger train to Heaven), I recognized her. I had wondered about her through the years. She had come into our church on the coattail of her husband, a man who’d made lots of money owning restaurants, taken lots of drugs in the process, and had finally decided to follow Jesus because, you know, that transition makes total sense. He suddenly became a huge spokesman for Jesus around our town and because it’s the thing that Jesus’ spokesmen do, where ever he happened to be, there she was. Maria would be sitting beside him in the folded-hand smiling Baptist wife position, and I often wondered if the Maria from the bus – the one who smacked her gum and smeared on frosted pink Bonne Bell gloss – still existed, and if she did, what did she think of Smiling Wife Maria? Is that who she dreamed of becoming? Was that what those days on the bus were leading to? What steps did she take to reserve this position for herself?

I wonder if she liked who she was then, and then who she became. She couldn’t have liked them both.

This is probably offensive

As many of you know, for a while I worked in a church.

It was a great job and I enjoyed the work, and I even enjoyed the liturgical calendar and the specific precise nuances that went along with it all.

I grew up in church, too, albeit a different denomination altogether. Basically the only resemblance between the two was the whole Jesus dying on a cross thing.

Anyway, these days the only religion I have is the prayers I send up when Lucy won’t go to sleep at 3 am.

That probably appalls my mother.

This is Holy Week, or it was. It’s pretty much over, seeing as tomorrow is Easter Sunday. I feel pretty much zero desire to honor this Sunday as anything extraordinary, and I’m really not sure why. Chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies don’t offend me at all, and if I’m honest, they’re the best candy of the year.

The entire concept of the church disgusts me. There, I said it. Having been intimately involved in the workings of one of the only truly good churches I’ve ever encountered, I’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus wouldn’t have wanted churches or people to spend so much time focusing on coffee bars, spectacles, and how many people pledge their pocket lining or sign a commitment card.

So that’s something, that’s an issue. People are fickle and hypocritical and….well, human.

The Baptipalian in me wants to answer that statement with, “but you can’t lump God in with the way people behave, people are fallible and hey hey that’s what Jesus was for.”

But shouldn’t something stand out? If being churchly and holyish is such a wonderful thing, then how come church gatherings are significantly more stressful and obligated than going to the new Harry Potter movie?

I know that there are cool, fun, happening churches/worship centers. And hey, if that’s what you go for, great.

I just don’t see being Godly and good as something that has to go along with a church setting.

If I want to worship, I can be quiet and contemplative in my backyard. As a matter of fact, I think that’s what Jesus might do.

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