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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.”

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 on 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, two of the tenets adhered to by the good folks at this church are “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”

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”

 

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

 

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.

How healthy are you? How willing are you to do the things you need to do to be healthy? Let’s find out!

You are diabetic. It’s time for lunch. What do you eat?
a. A healthy meal featuring protein, fruits and vegetables.
b. Ice cream, baby!

But wait, you have a sore on your toe that won’t heal. The diabetes is obviously affecting your circulation. Now what do you eat for lunch?
a. A healthy meal featuring protein, fruits and vegetables, and then go for a brisk walk around the block.
b. Still ice cream. And also onion rings. (Get off your back!)

You go to the doctor for a routine visit, and he tells you that you are now permanently blind in your left eye. You are:
a. Dismayed. You just thought it was a side effect of one of your many medications.
b. Surprised. You had no idea you couldn’t see out of your left eye.

You have to go to the bathroom. You just had a mini stroke, so you need a little help. What do you do?
a. Wait until someone brings the pee jug to you.
b. Open up your gown and let it go like you are Manneken-Pis.

You are (clearly) having issues with your bladder. The doctor installs a catheter. When do you ask for it to be removed?
a. As soon as possible because CATHETER!
b. Never. It just makes peeing easier.

Your leg is wet. Your catheter tube has come unattached. Do you notice?
a. Yes. Um … pee!
b. No.

Despite physical therapy at the nursing home after your mini stroke, you can’t walk without assistance. To be honest, you have trouble doing anything without help. When do you ask to be released from the nursing home?
a. Not until you can walk and manage tasks on your own.
b. Immediately. Watching TV all day is better from the lift chair. Who cares about the risk of falling?

Once home, your physical therapist tells you not to use the lift chair to help sit and stand. You need to build strength in your legs. What do you do?
a. Listen to her. She knows what she is doing.
b. Tell everyone that she changed her mind. The lift chair is totally fine.

Scoring:
Mostly or all As: Congratulations! You are doing what you need to do to be as healthy as possible. Your family must be so happy!
Mostly Bs: You need to take better care of yourself. Think about how your health issues are affecting your family.
All Bs: Dad?

 

 

Dear Family:

Many have asked how my father is doing after his recent “mini” stroke that necessitated a trip to the hospital and then a care facility. Many of you also have asked how I’m doing, as it’s no secret my relationship with my incredibly stubborn father has been strained over the past couple of years. Usually, I’m good with words. When it comes to him, though, words fail me.

Hence, I will describe what has happened/is happening using photos of bad taxidermy.

We visit Dad for Christmas. He says he wants me to look into assisted living places near us (as opposed to where he is, which is four hours away).

We visit Dad for Christmas. He says he wants me to look into assisted-living places near us (as opposed to where he is, which is four hours away).

 

After I took a day off of work to take tours of assisted living places, Dad calls to tell me, "Nevermind." He has decided to stay in his house with my stepmother.

After I took a day off of work to take tours of assisted-living places, Dad calls to tell me, “Nevermind.” He has decided to stay in his house with Kat (his wife).

 

Dad called. He had what he thinks is a stroke.

A few days later, Dad calls. He had what he thinks is a stroke.

 

We visit. He's fine. He will remain in the hospital for a while and receive physical therapy. He needs physical therapy. Everyone is happy.

We visit. He’s fine. He will remain in the hospital for a while and receive physical therapy. He needs physical therapy. Everyone is happy.

 

He tells us he is fine. He says we should start cleaning out his garage as he may have to sell the house to pay for full-time care.

He tells us he is doing great but that we should start cleaning out his garage as he may have to sell the house to pay for full-time care.

 

We spend an entire day cleaning out 1/3 of his garage. We took two truckloads of crap to the dump and three truckloads of stuff to the Salvation Army.

We spend an entire day cleaning out 1/3 of his garage. We took two truckloads of crap to the dump and three truckloads of stuff to the Salvation Army.

 

A couple of weeks later, I go back up to visit him in the nursing facility to have a chat with him and the therapist about next steps. Kat yells at me for cleaning out Dad's garage when I should have been sitting vigil next to him the entire weekend we spent doing what he told us to do.

A couple of weeks later, I go back up to the nursing facility to have a chat with him and the therapist about next steps. Kat yells at me for cleaning out Dad’s garage when I should have been sitting vigil next to him the entire weekend we spent doing what he told us to do.

 

According to Dad's legal papers, I share power of attorney with Kat. We have to agree on any decisions regarding his care. We do not agree.

According to Dad’s legal papers, I share power of attorney with Kat. We have to agree on any decisions regarding his care. We do not agree.

 

Dad is supposed to be released this week. There is no plan for in-home care. Kat is not speaking to me. Dad rotates among three main states: confused, angry, depressed. Only once in a while is he the dad I remember.

Dad is supposed to be released this week. There is no plan for in-home care. Kat is not speaking to me. Dad rotates among three main states: confused, angry and depressed. Only once in a while is he the person I remember.

 

I do not know what will happen next.

I do not know what will happen next.

If you are praying people, pray for him. Pray for me. Like the taxidermy pictured above, it’s not good.

Stay tuned,
Beth