Saturday, April 25, 2009

a place you can call home

I live in an area so Bible Belted it's hard to throw a buckle and not hit a preacher. I'm in the boondoggles a bit, but there is still a church next door to my house, another a minute down the road, another two minutes after that, and so on. It is hard to drive ten minutes anywhere around here without passing five to ten churches. Everybody and their grandmother, it seems, goes to this or that church, so being a churchgoer and calling yourself a Christian is pretty much how you go about fitting into the culture. My brother-in-law owns a pressure-washing business, and he's had people refuse him access to their property until they knew which church he attends.

I suppose this is part of the normal way in which people objectify their world so they can live pleasant, secure little lives, without the inconvenience of faith. The result, though, is that the terms "Christianity" and "Church" mean pretty much jack-bo-diddly around here, and often the only thing interesting about all these churches is their signs.

Like this one pictured here.

May God have Mercy on us All!

It's tough passing signs like this to know whether to laugh, cry, vomit, or fly into a fit of sign-smashing rage. Not sure whether it's laziness, despair or apathy - but I have decided for the sake of my kwaan to hummm deeply and laugh. A fellow can't be depressed all the time.

Don't get me wrong. I dig Jesus like I dig a garden of rich, loamy topsoil. I stick my fingers right in there, moosh him up, and try to do the best to grow something beautiful in that delicious organic dirtiness. But to me, church signs like this one are an indiscriminate dose of napalm all over everything that is life-giving in Jesus. What's a body to do? These churches and their signs are so thick around here that to stay sane and keep my brain functioning, I've just got to do the best I can to put my blinders on and chuckle my way on by, or I'll be smacking my forehead all day on their brick-walled idiocy.

This is how I stay calm. I imagine some overly made-up little woman waddling out to the sign in her lime-green, flower print dress with a bucket of letters in one hand. Clutched in her other plump little palm is a booklet of these idiotic sayings published by some squint-eyed, heavy-jowled, bejeweled marmot hunkered down behind the cloistered walls of some Bob Jones bible "school" in Florida. This woman puts down the bucket and wipes her forehead with a large, lacy kerchief she's pulled from God-knows-where, and then begins to thumb through the book. "Lordy", she thinks, "it shore 'nuff is hotter'n a hoke today. Hot, hot, hot... lessee. Aha! 'Stop Drop Roll Won't Work in Hell' Yes, yes. That will do just Fine. Almost as good as that 'Hell has no fire escapes' we done putted up last summer. I reckon I even got some red letters for the 'hell' bit. That'll put the fear in 'em." She wipes her forehead again, pats her enormous, hairspray-encrusted bouffant, and sets to doing the good Lord's bidniss.

I laugh because it's true, and because if I don't laugh, there are just too many aspects of this that will make me cry. Like, for instance, the absolute vacuousness of person who would think that threatening people is an effective way to make them want to come hang out with you. Or that you are helping your arguments for a God of Love by making the first message they get from you be: "Come on in or you'll burn forever without relief."

Setting aside what I have come to believe is a dubious understanding of theology too derivative of the imaginations of too many fear-mongering Dante-apostles - who in their right mind would respond to something like this? The only people liable to get sucked in are those so neurotic and guilt-ridden and afraid that they're liable to come in on the chance you'll have some new meta-narrative they can use to justify the Fear to which they so desperately cling.

This sort of environment makes it really hard for a fella like me to find an uplifting community for his faith. I know a good many people who go to these sorts of churches, and a good many of them are salt-of-the-earth folk who just happen to have been deluded into believing a nasty pack of lies. I know everybody's got their fair share of foolishness stored up, but I just can't see myself going into a place where the foolishness has been institutionalized.

I guess this is why Jesus isn't a God of establishment. He's a God of outcasts, orphans, and marginalized poo-disturbers. I guess this is why I will always be passin' through, and why as long as I'm alive in these parts I'll never find a place I can call home.

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