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Dear Evangelicals for Trump:

I infiltrated your ranks Thursday night, against my own best interests and Eddie’s wishes.

We were both afraid it would be shoulder to shoulder with no masks in sight.

We were wrong.

The hotel employed social distancing efforts, and nearly everyone was wearing a mask. At first.

I didn’t take any chances. I double masked — with a twist.

My mask says “But her emails.” Heh heh.

To be honest, I’m surprised I didn’t burst into flames upon arrival.

Let’s just say you’re not my usual crowd.

And I did find it very funny that I followed a car with the custom license plate “SAVED” into the parking garage.

So why did I go?

Because I genuinely wanted to know how people who follow the Bible can also follow Trump.

I was raised Presbyterian. I know scripture. And nowhere does it say:

And if thou wanteth the p—-, thou shalt grabbeth the p—-. And thy womenfolk will submit, for it is good.

Anyway, the crowd warmer was a gospel couple. Lovely, but not exactly sing-along style. Not for me, anyway, because, you know, HEATHEN.

The emcee for the night welcomed the crowd, then introduced Jonathan Cain.

The Jonathan Cain from Journey.

And my inner voice (in the voice of Daveed Diggs) said, “Whaaaaat?!”

Apparently, he’s got a new single to promote.

 

I don’t know what you thought of “More Like Jesus.” In my humble opinion, it’s no “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and he’s no Steve Perry, vocally.

(In other words, it’s not a banger.)

Next up was Jentezen Franklin, a “trusted voice for our president.”

And it was then, 30 minutes in, that someone finally explained why religious folks would support Trump:

It’s not about four more years. It’s about 37 more years. It’s about two more Supreme Court justices who are pro-life, pro-Israel, freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Without that, according to him, “We won’t have the freedoms we grew up with.”

“What freedoms are those?” I was wondering when the dude brought out his saxophone.

I’m not kidding.

Jentezen Franklin plays “America the Beautiful.” He didn’t follow with “Baker Street,” sadly.

I guess he didn’t want Cain to upstage him.

This was getting a talent show kind of vibe, so I was excited to see what Bishop Harry Jackson would do.

But he just promoted his new book and explained racism to a room of mostly white people. Y’all were polite, but unenthusiastic.

Bishop Harry Jackson didn’t show off his musical talents.

Interestingly, he was the first person to mention the president by name: 45 minutes into the event.

Ralph Reed, the next speaker, alluded to why.

Donald Trump with his imperfect past and with his personality … God chooses to use whoever he chooses to use.

Ah. Gotcha.

God and Jesus are the headliners; Trump is support.

Y’all seemed to love Ralph, even though he didn’t do anything music-related either.

He emphasized that you need to support Trump because he is:

Pro-life
Pro-marriage
Pro-freedom
Pro-constitution

Reed claimed Trump is “the most pro-life president in American History.”

Imma let you finish but first, let me remind you of his response to the ongoing pandemic.

In fact, let’s back up. I can’t help it.

Pro-life: Just unborn babies, apparently
Pro-marriage: Only between a man and a woman
Pro-freedom: Religious freedom to discriminate
Pro-constitution: A Tea Party battle cry regarding the expansion of the federal government (maybe)

OK. I’m done for the moment. Go on.

Next up: Alveda King, niece of MLK Jr.

She talked about squash plants and chipmunks. I was a little confused. But then she said:

Some things never change. Some things do change. There was a change of the guard in 2016.

And then she said something about Planned Parenthood “ripping little babies up.”

I see. Abortion. That’s the main driver.

OK, then. Let me say this about that:

No one is hyped to get an abortion. It’s a last resort. Also, no one is “pro abortion.” So let’s agree on one thing: The goal is to reduce abortions. How do we do that?

As we’ve seen with prohibition and the “war on drugs,” making them illegal won’t work. People will find a way, but it makes it very dangerous for women. So to me, the solution is to put more money into sex education, healthcare and contraception.

If you are pro-life (and really, aren’t we all?) then you should be supporting organizations like Planned Parenthood that actively help women with the above needs.

Alright.

Moving on to the next speaker, Richard Lee, who is as orange as the evening’s celebrant: the Cheeto in Chief.

He didn’t address abortion like everyone else. His main beef seemed to be with what is being taught in school: “garbage.”

Oh, and the Antichrist in the form of Democrats.

The Democratic Party has been taken over by the Antichrist. It’s an evil party.

I thank God that he sent Donald J. Trump to us. He is a gift to the church of Jesus Christ.

As much as you seemed to like this statement, I could tell you were restless. He willfully went over his allotted time and joked about it.

You were ready for the final act: Pastor Paula White. I found out later she is married to Jonathan Cain. Ah. He’s her third husband. With overlaps in relationships. So she’s truly taking those commandments seriously.

(🙄)

I mean, good for her for breaking into a man’s world in all respects.

In 2017, she became the first woman to deliver the invocation at a presidential inauguration.

She spent her time this night trying to convince everyone that Trump really is “godly” and “knows his scripture.”

Sure.

All I know is that I was hot in my two masks (and perhaps because of the fire and brimstone), so I slunk out a side door.

Y’all weren’t hot because all but about 12 of you shed your masks mere moments into the event.

(And that made me feel like I was marinating in the ‘Rona.)

Anyway, thanks for letting me bear witness. And now I’m on the Trump Train mailing list! This should be fun.

Your obedient servant friend,
Beth

Yeah. You know how I feel about bashing the news media.

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STOP: If you haven’t read “Sentenced to Church, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V and Part VI,” do that now.

The final church visit was made to a Lutheran church on Palm Sunday. I chose this church for a specific reason: I thought it might actually be one I could attend regularly.

After going to five churches and reaffirming the things I don’t believe and don’t like about church, I thought it might be good to do some research. Thanks to religion.net, I was able to research a variety of world religions. I looked at the site’s chart listing all the various categories for belief (the Bible, communion, heaven, hell, etc.) and followed across to see where my personal convictions matched up with an organized religion.

The top contender appeared to be the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Voila! I had my sixth and final entry of my study.

When I walked up that Sunday, the congregation was preparing for the special Palm Sunday processional. The greeter asked me to sign the guest book, which I did. As in the other church visits, I did not fill out the address because I didn’t really want to be stalked by various church representatives. The greeter, a kind-looking elderly lady was persistent.

“Where are you from?,” she asked. “Bloomingdale,” I replied, naming the nearest city. “Which part?” she probed. “Just up the road,” I said evasively. “Yes, but which part?” she demanded. Luckily, I was saved by another neighbor, Robert, from four doors down, who steered me away to meet his wife Phyllis. Phyllis was sitting alone during the service because Robert had a part as Judas in the Palm Sunday presentation.

Even with the service modified to celebrate Palm Sunday, it felt comfortable – like slipping on an old bathrobe. I was raised Presbyterian, and many aspects of this service were similar to what I remember from services at Highlands Presbyterian Church. I could recite the Nicene Creed without assistance, for example.

One hour later, I was back in my car and ready to go home, mission fulfilled.

One week later, I headed to the courthouse to turn in my bulletins. The clerk shuffled through a basket of papers (what, no computer files?) and pulled out my citation. She stapled the bulletins to it and said I was finished. “That’s it?” I asked. “No receipt?” “That’s it,” she said, looking a little disturbed that I had questioned the system.

Though my husband still gets a kick out of calling me a criminal, I’m pleased with my sentence, and how much I learned. My theory of life is that if something wonderful happens, then that is great in itself. But if something not-so-wonderful happens, then that is OK because it makes a great story.

In other words, bad decisions make good stories.

I guess sometimes crime does pay.

THE END

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STOP: If you haven’t read “Sentenced to Church, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V,” do that now.

Next up was a visit I had been both anticipating and dreading. One block away from my house is a Revivalist church. I ambled over there at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night and was met with what sounded like the worst “American Idol” audition ever. A guy was playing the keyboard and warbling hymns with all of his heart and energy. Too bad he was completely tone deaf.

According to the literature foisted upon me when I walked in the door, the church was founded by a married couple when “God began to use them to change the spiritual atmosphere of Savannah and the surrounding areas.” The brochure also said that “speaking with tongues” was not only to be expected but encouraged. Yikes.

I was “sister” here too, and greeted by everyone who came in the sanctuary (I use that term loosely as the building is a one-story concrete structure that looks like it may have been a storage unit at one time). Each person explained that I really should come on a Sunday when there are more people (70 as opposed to 17). After the fourth person made that comment, I finally said, “Well, the important thing is the message, not the number of people, right?” The lady blanched and fled to the other side of the room.

Like most standard services, this one began with a few hymns. Instead of hymnbooks, the church employs technology: an overhead projector and screen. The words were there but, because of the accompanist’s limitations, it was kind of hard to get the melody.

The sermon was not so much a sermon as a collection of anecdotes. One was about a science class and a jar of rocks filled with sand and water. The teacher apparently put in the various items in that order, asking each time if the jar was full. The jar was not full until he poured in the water, which is akin to how God’s love is able to fill in all the cracks in our nasty little human hearts. The pastor was not much of a storyteller, though. He was interrupted about three times by the person who first told him the story (the student) to correct parts he was butchering. And the poor pastor also had an odd habit of adding “Amen” in unexpected places. As in, “The teacher poured in the water, Amen” and “You may be seated, Amen.”

The pastor also offered his thoughts on mental health. According to him, “Depression is not a disease; it is a spiritual problem. It results from turmoil.” Maybe he and Tom Cruise should compare notes and join together to save all of us from unnecessary medication and doctor visits.

After the service, I ran home as fast as I could go. I avoided the road and any lights that could illuminate me and my path. I didn’t want any of the revivalists to see where I live.

Up next: “Yes, but what part?”

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STOP: If you haven’t read “Sentenced to Church, Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV,” do that now.

In the Lowcountry, churches are plentiful. There are four within a one-mile radius from my house. One of those is a historic church that keeps a strange schedule: Services are only held on the first Sunday of each month.

Folks at this Baptist church were very welcoming, without being overbearing. As it turns out (and this is how far removed I am from the church culture in my area), the pastor is my next-door neighbor.

We sang a few well-known hymns and then neighbor man delivered a sermon, which also was about the path to heaven. According to him, all you have to do is say out loud:

“I accept Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior.”

I guess saying it in your head or to the dog won’t work.

Up next: “You may be seated, Amen.”

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STOP: If you haven’t read “Sentenced to Church, Part I, Part II and Part III,” do that now.

/\ Me

My coworker invited me to her Christian church where I felt like produce at the grocery store. Each “Welcome, sister” was accompanied by a handshake, hug, shoulder rub, full-body squeeze or some such contact. I needed to be hosed down with antibacterial gel after the two-hour service, during which the minister asked me to stand and say something to the congregation. “Uh … thanks for welcoming me” was my impromptu speech.

The day’s sermon concerned the way to heaven. According to the minister, the only way is to be baptized and join this particular church. That’s it. No other way. I wondered if you could still go one living a wicked life, but yet belong to the church and be OK.

This kind of information is important, because I think I’m pretty wicked in general. Plus, one of the tenets adhered to by the good folks at this church is that “Women are to learn in silence” and “They are not to teach in any capacity over a man.” I’m serious. It was in their bulletin. As I am rather a chatty sort, and I am employed as a college professor teaching both women and men, I think this church is not for me.

Up next: “What a friend we have in Jesus”

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STOP: If you haven’t read “Sentenced to Church, Part I and Part II,” do that now.

Just over 36 hours later, I was in another church: a Methodist church near my house.

Unlike my mother-in-law’s church where parishioners were on me like sharks to chum, the Methodist folks smiled, nodded and generally left me alone. Only the pastor, sporting an Irish brogue and a green jacket perfect for St. Patrick’s Day, officially greeted me.

The start of the ceremony resembled a town hall meeting. Announcements ranged from the results of the bake sale to what the county’s industrial development authority was planning to do with a parcel of land up the road. I noticed that the dress code has changed since I was a regular churchgoer. My parents would not have been pleased if I wore jeans to church, but now it appears jeans, T-shirts, cut-offs and flip-flops are all just fine to wear to hang out with God.

Apparently, this is appropriate church attire.

During the sermon, which was about what Jesus must have been like as a child, I took a look at the bulletin. On the back of the bulletin, under the heading “Prayer Concerns,” was a list of people asking for special thoughts and why. In addition to the expected, such as “fell and broke hip,” “gall bladder surgery” and “soldier injured in Iraq,” there were a few that made me feel as if I now knew too much. Apparently, Bobbie is “causing family problems” and Paige has “legal problems.” I guess those are the times when you chat with God the most.

Up next: “Welcome, sister”

 

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STOP: If you haven’t read “Sentenced to Church, Part I,” do that now.

My Puerto Rican mother-in-law was the first to offer up her church for inspection. I’m sure she thought it was the perfect way to rehabilitate me, the White Devil. It is not that I’m not religious in my own way, I just don’t attend church services. I am suspicious of organized religion and mostly see it as a way for people to have an excuse to be intolerant of others’ beliefs. Like there is only one right path to spirituality, and it is theirs. (Remember in Part I that I said this series was guaranteed to offend someone.)

According to Biblical lore, Jesus sat on a stump and talked to people. If that’s true, why should I go to a place where humans have torn into nature to build a massive structure where they ask for more money to build more structures? (This is, after all, the Bible Belt, where the size of the church equals standing in the community.)

Anyway, I decide to attend a Friday night church service with my Spanish-speaking mother-in-law. The congregation is building a new church, so they were borrowing a sanctuary from a different church in the meantime and had to wait for key assistance each time. So, at 8 p.m., when the service was supposed to begin, everyone was still loitering outside. My mother-in-law saw her opportunity and seized it, introducing me to her fellow parishioners en masse.  I tried to think happy thoughts. Happy thoughts.

Once inside, the first thing I noticed was the band. It was a six-piece ensemble with a singer and his two back-ups. One of the members of the congregation brought her own tambourine. Others formed a sort of mosh pit in front of the first row of pews. After 30-45 minutes of vocal warm-up, including inspiring songs such as “Señor Jesus, muévame!” (which means, essentially, “Mister Jesus, move me!”), the pastor took the spotlight, but there was still plenty of audience participation. One man yelled “Hable papa!” (“Speak, Father!,” a phrase kind of like “You go, Girl” for the iglesia set) every two minutes.

I thought I was the only one of my kind, but then I noticed two very white old people in the front row. I thought they must have been confused and were looking for the services for other church, but then the man got up and approached the pastor. Apparently, this guy was a visiting pastor and – holy crap! – his Spanish was good! So good, in fact, that he was able to deliver an hour-long sermon, during which many members of the congregation “caught the spirit” and flung themselves crying into the aisles. My mother-in-law kept stealing glances at me to see if the spirit was making an appearance yet in my heathen soul. Or maybe she was just making sure I was awake.

The evening culminated in a group therapy session at the front, with the guest pastor laying his hands on the heads and faces of the assembled in a healing sort of way. Meanwhile, my prayers were answered when he stayed at the front and didn’t roam throughout the sanctuary finding people to save.

On the way home, any good will I built up with my mother-in-law for attending her church was lost when I refused to take her preferred route. Let’s just say I didn’t want to take the long way home after two hours of spirit possession on a Friday night.

Up next: Causing family problems

 

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Dear Readers:

Writer’s block is a nasty beast. It periodically leaves me incapacitated, as is the case lately.

As I’d like to retain the few of you I have left, I present to you a personal essay from the past that has never seen publication. It’s a seven-part series, so I’m set for a while. (Me = drunk on content!)

Warning: The series is likely to offend anyone and everyone.

Enjoy!
Beth

City Hall, Garden City, Georgia

Sentenced to Church, Part I

Police laser guns are not infallible and neither are their operators. This is what I tell the Garden City, Georgia, judge when I dispute my ticket for going 41 in a 35-mile-per-hour school zone. It is possible the officer tracked another car, but blamed me, I said. Plus, the school zone ended at 8:30, which is the time I was pulled over.

My argument sounded lame, even to me, but it was all I had. The judge took pity and dismissed the ticket on the condition that I complete a certain task: I must attend six church services over the next six weeks and bring proof of my attendance in the form of bulletins.*

Um. What? Isn’t there supposed to be a separation of church and state? And what does speeding have to do with religion anyway? In a small town in Georgia, I guess anything goes.

Though friends and relatives advised me to contact the American Civil Liberties Union, I was just happy to have avoided the $114 fine and the blot on my perfect driving record.

I decided to look at the sentence as an anthropological assignment. I chose to attend six different churches to contrast and compare.

 

Up next: “Señor Jesus, muévame!”

 

* True story. I promise.

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Dear God,

After this weekend, I’m certain you exist. The proof: My father is still alive.

I asked you for patience, and you granted my wish.

Here’s a refresher on the circumstances. (You know this already, but I know you have plenty on your plate with all the election-related prayers.)

My cousins were visiting my dad, so Eddie and I made the four-hour (one way) drive to visit him/them. As soon as we got there, and I settled into a chair for a chat, Kat (my stepmother) asked me to fix their DIRECTV setup.

Me:

irritated

 

Hell to me is being tech support.

While trying to get that sorted, Gideon discovered my father’s WiFi connection was down.

Me:

rage

 

I called DIRECTV tech support as it was clear the issue was bigger than something I could fix, and gave their phone to Eddie. I took my phone to the so-called “computer room” to sort out the modem issue with Windstream.

While on the phone with Windstream, we determined the phone jack might be bad. The following ensued:

Me: Dad, where is another phone jack?
Dad: It’s at the end of the phone.
Me:

wtf

 

More troubleshooting followed. Meanwhile, I was trapped in this “computer room” feeling like I was in an episode of “Hoarders” and wanting to do this:

 

"Citizen Kane" room trashing

If you would like to answer another one of my prayers, you can inspire my father to get rid of the two late ’90s computer systems and desks, floppy disks and miscellaneous paper that clutter this room. And maybe you can compel Kat to get rid of the four creepy dolls, fake ferns and flea-market clocks.

Anyway, thank you for helping me summon the patience necessary to keep from throttling my father. And thank you for helping arrange technicians for both DIRECTV and Windstream to come out Monday. That truly is a miracle.

I’m a believer,
Beth

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danteDear Dante Alighieri:

First off, let me say that I love your work. My favorite isThe Divine Comedy,” with particular love for the “Inferno” part. I am an orderly person, so I gravitate to categories. The nine circles of Hell speak to me and my Type A personality.

I went on a work trip last week, and I’d like to add people to the circles, if I may.

Candidate: People who meander in the middle of the airport concourse, weaving side to side and making it difficult to walk around them
Circle of Hell: First circle — limbo (or maybe the vestibule — land of the indecisive)

Candidate: That guy in the bar who won’t let you have a drink in peace
Circle of Hell:
Second circle — lust

Candidate: People who stand in the middle of the moving sidewalk when they clearly should move to the right to allow people to pass
Circle of Hell: Third circle — gluttony

Candidate: People who take up the airplane arm rest immediately upon sitting
Circle of Hell: Fourth circle — greed

Candidate: People who take up seats with their bags in the airport gate area and look at you sullenly if you dare to ask to sit
Circle of Hell: Fifth circle — anger

Candidate: People who put their feet on their airplane tray tables
Circle of Hell: Sixth circle — heresy (because EWW!)

Candidate: People who are unaware of the circumference of their backpacks
Circle of Hell: Seventh circle — violence

Candidate: People who try to get on the plane when their zone has not been called yet
Circle of Hell: Eighth circle — fraud

Candidate: The pilot who wants to tell you too much about the flight when you just want to watch the movie
Circle of Hell: Ninth circle — treachery [Listen, Captain: You do your job (flying), and I’ll do mine (resting).]

Like I said, I appreciate order. I need these people to get it together or go to (their circles of) Hell.

Thank you, Mr. Alighieri, for considering my suggestions.

(Wait … What’s that? I’m a candidate for at least three circles, you say? No … )

Yours in boiling blood and fire,
Beth

danteinfernoninecircles

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