Monday, September 14, 2015
Down to the Little White Church
I've never "done church" for anybody but me. My family was never especially religious. As a little girl, I lived near my father’s parents. My grandparents were the epitome of religious. Church was a typical Southern experience. The ladies in their lacquered beehive hairdos, polyester dresses, and white Sunday heels and the gentlemen in their pressed grey suits would walk from all edges of the neighborhood toward the center where Hillcrest Baptist Church stood. Hillcrest was my neighbor. I lived across the street. After church, all us Wadleys filed back toward Grandma’s house for Sunday supper. The table was piled high with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, cornbread, and sweet tea. You waited your turn, and you never took seconds. But my own parents were not the religious type.
There would be stretches of time in between never going to church where my mom or dad would get the notion. We would attend this congregation or that just long enough for me to memorize half the books of the Bible in order to win some prize and prove to some uncaring imaginary crowd that just because I did not go to church did not mean I did not know about God. Then we would stop going. Altogether.
When I was seventeen and could drive, I took myself down to Grace Baptist Church every Sunday morning. On one of those Sundays, with hands raised in praise all around me, I gave myself over to the Lord. I am never fully certain why I chose that moment. Maybe because I had just lost a grandmother to alcohol and a grandfather to cancer. Or maybe it just seemed the thing to do.
I’m not one, though, to push church on other people.
For me, church is not about saving lost souls. It isn’t even about church. It’s about Jesus and how much he loves me no matter what I do. It’s about being in the one place where I can let down every defense I have. I don’t have to be the role model, the example, the good girl, the perfectionist. I don’t have to be Not Poor, Not Ignorant, Not White Trash. I don’t have to be the brain, the bookworm, the soccer mom, the suburban housewife, the college professor. I don’t have to be anything. I can just be me. Naked. And fully accepted.
It’s tough for me to understand why I believe. I am an academic after all. Academics are typically tough sales when it comes to religion. If I cannot quantify it or validate it, I want no part of it. But I’ve always felt at peace on a wooden pew. The red carpet, the vaulted ceiling, the stained glass windows. My head can’t wrap itself around any of it, but my heart is happy and right where it belongs.
I don’t much know my heart. Heart is emotional, out of control. I don’t need that business in my life. Control is everything to me. I grew up in a world of chaos. Parents yelling at each other, yelling at their children. Moving homes and schools nearly every grade. Never knowing if I would have food or not have food, have heat or not have heat. Heart is messy. Living from heart would mean confessing things my head has worked hard to hide. It would mean being angry at people toward whom I am not supposed to feel anger. It would mean hating and crying and cowering. I do not cower. I do not hate.
At least this is what I tell myself.
But Jesus knows that little girl, that little girl with a heart full of love, a heart full of joy and feeling, being told to shut up and quit your crying, being told she’s stupid and ignorant and that she thinks herself better than. Jesus knows that teenager being laughed at for the way she speaks, the clothes she wears, the cars her father drives. Jesus knows the woman with the heart that is bleeding tears, holding back hate, and aching for the love she gives but feels she has never received.
Church. My head may not approve it. But my heart knows it’s home.