I was thinking this morning about church. It’s that time of year, where I especially miss it. I love knowing that you’re going to sing “Up from the Grave He Arose” on Easter morning no matter what and that everyone is going to be in their best clothes and all the little kids will be in ridiculous hats and new shoes.

One year, my dad had the congregation sing “Joy to the World” on Easter Sunday, which was really amazing, I thought. Obviously, though, someone bitched about it, because he hasn’t done it since. That’s too bad.

There’s a lot of pettiness in congregations. My favorite little funny saying about it is “If the Church is the Body of Christ, that means there’s an asshole in every congregation.” I don’t miss that.

But there’s also some stuff that goes on in the church that I really miss. I miss the quietness of the sanctuary during the week, so still and cool. I miss the ritual. I appreciate that every funeral starts out exactly the same and that you can just recite right along with everything without having to think about it. Funerals are sad, but they’re a respite from the grief. You actually get to move through something familiar that starts and finishes at a time when you don’t feel like you can get through another thing.

But I really miss the church kitchen. Every church my dad ever served had a kitchen which seemed to be the real soul of the building. People snuck in there to gossip, they stuck candles in surprise birthday cakes, they served treats to small children, they washed dishes and cooked chili and laughed and started water balloon fights.

I was thinking of one of the women in my dad’s church when I was in high school. Once, when we were in the church kitchen, she started telling me about her son, who had died in Viet Nam. She told me about answering the door and seeing a man in a uniform and then watching her coffee arc out over the lawn and him ducking the mug and how she remembered hearing screaming, but not realizing it was herself.

She guessed they must have told her that her son was dead, but she didn’t remember it, just the coffee and the screaming and the feeling like everything around her, including her body, was moving forward, but she was stuck in that moment right before she knew for sure.

And then, it was like she skipped forward, caught up with herself sometime after that.

When she was telling me this, there were plenty of other people in the kitchen. No one bothered us, but they all kept an eye on the situation. I thought that was very generous of them, to listen and to not butt in.

I told the Shill once, and I still believe it, that there are a lot of people who really want someone to listen to them, to really listen.

I feel lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to hear people’s stories. As much as I love to read and write, there’s a lot of stories out there that never get written down. But people have them and they hold those stories dear and they still do try to pass them along to people they think will pass them along.

That’s really amazing, when you think about it, this oh so human desire we have to share our experiences with each other and to have our concrete experiences turned into something aesthetic.

The Professor has this friend with a tattoo that delights me–Hammer of the Gods–written in runes on his back. His only tattoo and he’s used the opportunity to turn his shoulder into a page. Well, all our bodies tell a certain kind of story about who we are–but I love that he’s made that more explicit. It’s funny, too, because he’s the kind of person who storms around the kitchen lambasting lit crit for not understanding that history is history and not narrative (obviously, I think he’s utterly misguided) and that any narrative that might occur in a history book is just the historian’s attempt to emplotten things.

Yes, emplotten.

And yet, his tattoo would indicate an deep concern with the artful functions of words.

Well, thinking all about church obviously has me thinking about death. It’s one of the drawbacks to a Christian upbringing–you spend a lot of time worrying about death and what comes after–and, since leaving that life, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn to live in the world and love it.

But this makes me laugh, a little, that, since I’m not married, it’ll fall to my Christian family to do away with my old, phlegmy corpse (I hope! Let my corpse be that of an old, phlegm-filled, gray-haired lady!) and they’ll haul me right up the front of the church and let some Methodist minister say words over me.

Because, it doesn’t matter what I believe (obviously, it matters to me); it’s inconceivable to my family that it would have any effect on the “right” thing to do.

It’s making me think that the Professor’s friend has the right idea. If you can’t control your narrative, at least leave some textual evidence for a likely alternate reading.

9 thoughts on “Church

  1. Emplotten. Man, if I wanted a tattoo – and I don’t – that might be the one to get.

    It’s interesting to hear what you miss from church. I wasn’t the son of an actual minister, which is what I’m thinking you were, but we sure did go often enough. There were a lot of pleasures, and plenty enough moments of excruciating boredom. I did love the singing, though.

  2. emplotten – there’s your Germanic origins at work again.

    But now I am seriously thinking about leaving an alternative reading of myself on my body. Since I think I’ve found the best & safest place in town to get a tattoo and am moments away from a new one, maybe symbols aren’t sufficient or are too impractical.

  3. I’d love to get a tattoo, but I come from a long line of fat people and I have yet to figure out what one could get that would still look good when one is a disgruntled three-hundred pound jack-ass demanding chocolate cake and forgetting where she is–which is my likely fate.

    Although, I guess if I turn into a huge grouch, no one will want to see my tattoo anyway, which will mean it won’t matter what it’s stretched to look like.

    Professor, I’d love to go with you when you get your next one. That’d be cool.

    Maybe you could talk your friend into getting his next one at the same time.

  4. I don’t know if this is now officially off topic, but Holy Week too is my favorite, not suprising to anyone here since we are sisters and all. It’s a toss up for me between Maunday Thursday and Good Friday…your father singing “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” and “It is finished the battle is over.” Of course after you left, there was the washing of the feet on Maunday Thursday, which I was invited to do, but was completely weirded out by and said no way. I mean, we are midwesterners – isn’t that a little too intimate?

  5. JR! There’s no such thing as off-topic where’ you’re concerned. I loved, too, the kids all waving their palm brances and marching around the church.

    Is your brother older than the Butcher? Why do I have a vague memory of my dad baptizing the Butcher with your brother’s name?

  6. I always got a big kick out of Holy Week too. I’m not sure if is really supposed to be a big party, but it always seemed that way when I was little because going to church at odd times meant running around with other kids from church! at times other than Sunday! and getting way too hyper! and on Easter there will be candy! which means more hyper while the hat tries to kill you with the elastic band! That and being in junior high laughing so hard about elephant boogers at Maundy Thursday service that my tiny mom almost hauled me out even though I may already have been taller than her. It doesn’t really match the nature of the service…but it has always been a fond (if embarassing) memory.

    One of the things I like about going home for Easter is that it is still a big trip to my original stomping grounds but without the Christmas gift, what do we have to bake, how will we see everyone we have to production. Also, the clergyperson in my family is usually a little slap happy by Saturday so that makes our egg coloring a laugh riot every year. Pretty much on the level of elephant boogers. I’m sure she’d be pleased to here me say that.

    And there will be candy!

    But no hat with an elastic band for me this year – SuperGenius

  7. Dude, no connection to the big ML. It was just the wanderings of my little booger obssessed best friends mind and I think the oddity of it has to be included to express the jr. high level of hilarity we had achieved.

    Unless you want to say that by an act of grace I have the faith to believe that these exist because it would just be too gross to commit the works to find out if they do.

    When I start making the Lutheran jokes it is time for lunch or some kind of a break – SG

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