Sundays in the south mean two things: church meetings and home-cooked lunches full of deep fried protein. Nearly everyone belongs to a religious affiliation of some sort where they get gussied up in their finest and sing in congregation songs about being washed in the blood and unbroken circles. Unlike most folks, I had the displeasure to grow up a Pastor's kid in the buckle of the Bible Belt. Every move I made was watched and heavily scrutinized. Oftentimes, my personal failures and lessons-of-hard-knocks became fodder for sermon points and sunday school lessons. Being a pastor's kid caused me many discomforts. Of course, most of the discomfort was due to fighting my conscience during the "how-far-is-too-far" years when I spent many nights in Bible study with youth group fellas before necking with them later in the church parking lot.
I can recall several steamy backseat sessions with good little Christian boys who fumbled around clumsily with my bra straps and gave kisses that were too firm and full of teeth. Bless our little Christian hearts, we'd ride the repentance and sin see-saw -- either feeling so much shame and guilt that we'd promise never to make-out again, or planning to sneak out just so that we could. We were taught (and believed) that sex was a sin, masturbation its fiery counterpart, and you were meant to keep yourself pure until marriage because, after all, "True Love Waits." This Bible thumping abstinence teaching only made us want to have sex more! It was the equivalent of talking about chocolate cake recipes when you were on a strict sugar diet.
I ended up losing my virginity at 16 while Stevie Nicks' alto voice vibrated the speakers. (The dude I was with had a thing for 80s music... don't judge me.)
After that, I had a string of boyfriends with sexual relationships that ranged from light kissing to X ratings, all the while feeling the guilt of a religion that told me I was going to burn in hell for it all. I wasn't shacking up with rank sinners as you would expect, quite the contrary. All but two lovers of mine were also deeply religious -- one I even broke up with due to our theological differences. Looking back, I can't help but laugh at the irony of the situation. We failed to see eye-to-eye on the simplest of doctrines, but had zero problem meeting crotch to crotch in the middle of the night. Despite our nocturnal rendezvous, all of my church-going boyfriends and I continued to have an earnest and heartfelt belief in our religion. We were believers who couldn't keep out of the same bed, and as a result, we had no one to share our true selves with for fear of being deemed "wrong."
We wore masks of lies disguised as Sunday morning smiles. We gave hearty "amens" during the sermons. We cried at the alter call, and even lay our hands on others to pray for them. We hosted Bible studies and led Sunday Schools. We were praise and worship leaders.
We were stereo-typical hypocrites, and I suspect we weren't alone.
Southerners are deeply rooted in religious belief. There are those doctrines that are written down, memorized, and recited. "I believe in God the Father, almighty maker of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ his only begotten son, our Lord..." There are also those doctrines that are not written down, but are strictly abided by to avoid stirring up the wrath of the elders and causing embarrassment to your family. Admitting to pre-marital and casual sex when you're the worship leader is one of the biggest "DON'T'S," so we did what we had to do -- we played the game like everyone else.
Sundays were days where we donned a stage smile and shook hands with folks we claimed as our brothers and sisters. We showed them a clean and pure side of our personality, one that was without spot or wrinkle -- or sweat and bodily fluids. We were, to put it plainly, fake. We'd go to church and fake intimacy with the congregation and with the deity himself, I suppose.
Intimacy with the congregation and the deity. Hmmmm. Interesting.
Examining the church services in retrospect, (and while I'm writing this) I can see how --although we kept sex taboo -- it was a theme throughout the service itself. Through hypnotic melodies, the congregation was enticed to press through the veil and enter the holy of hoilies where they could know God in a spirit-filled way. The church body would rock in back-and-forth-rhythm while the music worked them into a frenzy with the pulsating beats. Hands were raised, eyes were closed, lips and brows pressed in firm concentration to achieve a strong touch from the lord. Voices were raised in ecstatic exclamatory affirmations. "Yes, God! Glory! Come, Lord Jesus! Hallelujah!" Some worshipers were even slain in the spirit and had sheets draped over them from the waist down while others continued dancing and crying out around them. Tears were shed when hearts became overwhelmed, and sweaty embraces were swapped after the worship was completed. One could argue that sex was a huge contributing factor to the church service -- someone smarter than I certainly could, but I've digressed from my own story, haven't I?
I wasn't just faking it in church, I was also faking it with my boyfriends. While I couldn't be real with the church folk for the fear of being labeled a sinner, I also couldn't be real with my boyfriends, because I always felt like the deception they knew I was committing kept them from trusting me. I did what I suspect a lot of people do. I built up a wall. So much of what my boyfriends loved about me was based on my being a good church girl, and yet they knew I really wasn't! How could they really love me for me? How could my church family love me for who I really was? The answer is: no one knew me, so no one could love me.
How many churchgoers are desperate to be honest with someone in order to feel loved as they really are?
I can't help but wonder things like that. I can't help but ponder how many church goers are just as fake as my aforementioned boyfriends and I were. How many are desperate to tell the brother they're shaking hands with that they have a secret online profile? How many Sunday morning smiles are hiding depressed and suicidal souls? How many are riding their own see-saw of repentance and sin?
More importantly, why do we feel we have to hide all of that from each other?
So many of our deeply held and fiercely fought for beliefs seem to cause more distance between us rather than uniting us in the love that Jesus claimed would cause "all men to know" we are his. How did it become this? How did the people we call brother and sister become the people you can't trust with your personal truth? How are we going to ever be real when we're so concerned with the fact that Jimmy is wearing a ball cap during the food blessing or that Sara's skirt is too tight? (and God forbid Sara try to wear a pair of pants. I know several ladies who keep skirts in their cars to rapidly change into before church people see them in slacks, but that's another topic altogether.) My point to all of this, if I have one, is why do we hold on to beliefs that keep us from showing our fuck ups and failures to each other with complete freedom? Does being right trump being in relationship?
What REALLY matters? What really matters to you?
The hot-as-hell hubby and I don't attend church anymore, much to the shock and chagrin of my family. Instead, we use the day set aside for worship to connect deeply with each other and our family. In lieu of the congregation and the church mask which has taken up the bulk of this discussion, we have a core group of friends -- real friends -- who see us as we really are.
We all have different beliefs; politically, socially, and religiously. We all have different interests and passions. We all are in different life stages, and yet we are open and transparent with each other. In my entire life, I've never had friends like the ones I have now. They have seen me at my most ridiculous and most victorious. We have laughed together until our stomachs ached for days afterwards, and we have cried tears of sorrow and pain with each other when the shit hit the fan. We have years -- decades even -- of investment in each others' lives. We are bound to one another heart, mind, and soul.
I wouldn't feel the least bit of shame or guilt admitting to them a "sin" that I had committed or asking for advice. I know without asking them, that they feel the same.
Isn't that what real brothers and sisters should be like?
Isn't that what love looks like?
Isn't that being free indeed?
Isn't that a "church body?"
Maybe I'll institute a lunch of deep-fried protein after we hang out to make it official.