by Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Warm, woolen wrappings hung from the coat racks in the church of my youth. In the hallway, outside the room where families gathered to praise God and pass an abundance of homemade delicacies on wintry Sunday evenings, I would play a game. Escaping from the big people whose hands I had to shake firmly because my mother said so, I would hide among the weighty coats, weaving between the tweeds, the camel hairs, the felted cloaks, exploring hidden treasures in pockets, breathing the scent of sheep’s wool damp with winter rain, the huge leather gloves, rabbit-soft on the inside. I would settle on the warmest coat with the best smell and reach up into it. Then God would wrap her arms around me, and there we would whisper secrets to each other until one or another of my siblings tracked us down to fetch us for the meal.
It was a church I knew as well as my own bedroom: a place to run and play and sing, a place where I knew the love of God, a place where I could always find her when I needed her.
Then we moved to a new state and a new church, and God of course moved with us. She made herself at home in the larger sanctuary, the lighter pews, the heavenly choir loft and the organ’s pipes that gave reed to seemly Southern Baptist hymns. Together we sang words of joy and adoration for each other.
And then one day, as my aunt circled the church looking for a parking space, she asked Sweet Baby Jesus to find us one. I wondered at the request, sure there were more important prayers for him to answer.
And then on a runaway adventure to the West, my brother reported finding Jesus. Unaware he’d been lost, I was grateful that all was well, but unhappy to be informed that I was going to hell because I had not also found Jesus, because I’d not invited him into my heart. I questioned the accuracy of my bother’s prophecy, though, because God and I were already in each other’s hearts — and why would Jesus relegate me to eternal and fiery damnation simply for failing to put him on an invitation list?
And then, when I carried my child in one arm and in the other a sign that said to keep abortion safe and legal, women clutching Bibles to their breasts screamed foul things, calling me an evil baby killer, shrieking that God knew I was an unfit mother. I cradled my child and whispered gentle secrets to her, that different people understand God in different ways, but that God does not scream at people, that she loves all of us — even the women who were so unloving.
And then Pat Robertson proclaimed that God belonged not only in our hearts and in our churches, but also in the White House. I suspected it was up to the president to decide when to have God over to help and when to do the best he could with the gifts she gave him. The president agreed.
But then the next president claimed God was indeed in the White House, and dropped her name every chance he got. Except, I couldn’t find her face among the mostly white men who proclaimed God’s co-sponsorship of their bills and battles. Although they intoned her name, she did not attend their ritual signings, nor lend her name to their memos endorsing torturous retribution. No, she was not there.
And then I realized how much I missed the church of my youth, the believers who carried their politics to the polls and God’s love in their hearts. I wanted to find them again, and I searched. But at the first church and the second and the third, the cars bore bumper stickers that did not speak of God, but of the foolishness of saving God’s trees and animals, the treason of those who prayed for peace, the stupidity of reproductive rights, the abomination of the wrong kind of marriage, the condemnation of all but the passengers in those vehicles on that lot of that creed. There was no parking there for me.
So it is no surprise now that the percentage of people who disclaim religion has increased from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008 (please see the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, released last week).
I bet, though, if we could find the right coat rack, God — who would not favor one nation over another, one political party over another, one gender or race or orientation or faith over another — would join those of us who don’t have a place in the parking lot and embrace us in the warm, woolen wrappings of my youth.
(Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)
(Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod of Alpine, TX from gapingvoid and used through a Creative Commons license.)
American Religious Identification Survey
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by Kit-Bacon Gressitt