Southern Girl Academy: Church

Come on in, ladies! Settle into your pew and get comfortable; it’s time to talk about church. I can see you squirming over there already, but calm yourselves. We Southerners tend to look out at the world through stained-glass windows; most of us have a long and complicated relationship with church.  I may or may not be the best person to give you advice about it. However, as the preacher might say, I’m the one with the pulpit. So listen up.

Sarabeth ~ Easter (undisclosed year)

I grew up a stranger in a strange land when it comes to church in the South. Not to say that I didn’t attend – I did, faithfully. Sunday mornings I sat in a pew and then went to my Sunday School class to hear stories about Jesus and other bearded figures wearing robes played out on a felt board in a paneling-lined room under a cool glare of the florescent lights. I was always slightly dismayed at the production values in these little one-acts; wishing for a more nuanced delivery of the narrative, or perhaps simply a visual medium that allowed for depth of field. Other than these issues, though, I was just like every other good little Southern Baptist, Methodist, or Church of Christ gal.

Only I wasn’t. I was Lutheran.

“A what?” was inevitably the response I would get from other kids. If you hail from the South, you already know that it is common practice to ask “What are you?” during the early phase of any grade-school relationship (as in, “I’m Methodist, what are you?”). For that matter, it’s not even frowned upon coming from an adult. Although if you find yourself in conversation with a Southern Baptist you may be hit with a variant of this, the one-two punch of religious small talk: “Where do you go to church?” with the almost immediate follow-up of “Are you saved?”

As a child, I may have enjoyed having the power to stop that conversation dead in its tracks just a little too much. Generally, we’d be going around the circle, mentally placing people in the right category with each answer. Until it got to me. It wasn’t like we had any Hasidic Jews running around. I didn’t meet a Pentecostal until middle school. Catholics? It was college. I was the odd bird, the person of exotic religious background.

As I got older, I began to experience more, go to more of my friends’ churches. I even went to a Baptist college, attended a charismatic church, and met and married a good Church of Christ boy. I like to think it made me well-rounded: I can fall into the cadence of a liturgy or smack a tambourine with equal ease.

I realize, however, that not all of you may have had the gift of such an eclectic upbringing.  You may find yourself in any of a number of places emotionally or physically when it comes to the subject of church. However, precious reader, it’s time to face facts: as a fine Southern woman, you live in the Bible belt. You can let that be a positive thing – make that belt useful for keeping your pants up and not showing your derriere. Or you can choose to be negative and spank somebody with it. WWJD, indeed?

Seeing how Easter is just around the corner, there’s not a minute to waste. And so, without further ado, here are the 10 Commandments for Southern Girls and Church:

  1. Thou shalt have no other nods, naps, or z’s. Besides the fact that it is not ladylike to drool, if you doze off who will be left to report the suspicious behavior of the youth group sitting in the balcony?
  2. Thou shalt not fashion for thyself an aura of perfume. Walking around in a cloud of ‘smell-good’ does not give you an air of intrigue and allure. It does, however, give everyone around you a headache. And on Sundays, we don’t need any help with that.
  3. If thou canst say something nice, then thou shalt say “Bless your heart.” Heavens, child. This is a basic that your mama taught you, and if you thought it worked well in everyday life, you should see the miracles that can be wrought with It on a Sunday.
  4. Thou shalt remember the white shoes and keep them in their proper season. Easter to Labor Day, sweetheart.
  5. Honor thy potlucks and thy covered dishes. This is no time for cute, complicated, or healthy. In times of celebration or sorrow, people need casseroles.
  6. Thou shalt not gossip. That’s what prayer request sharing time is for, precious.
  7. Thou shalt not bear witness on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or on a bumper sticker. Dear, dear girl. We know you mean well, but we also know that the vast mystery that is your personal relationship to the infinite God of the universe cannot easily be summed up in 140 characters, or in any format that can be ‘liked’ or purchased at a Quik-Mart.  We’ll make an exception every once in awhile if you can promise to stay on your best behavior. Bless your heart.
  8. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s pew. Don’t even think about that prime spot across the aisle and 2 rows up. That’s where the Miller family sits, and until they all die off that real estate is off limits.
  9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s bag. Or her strappy sandals. Honey, aren’t you supposed to be listening to the sermon? Eyes up front now, you hear?
  10.  Thou shalt not take any of it too seriously. Faith is one thing, church is another. The gift of a Southern woman is the ability to find humor in any situation, and there is plenty to find in a church pew on Sunday. Can I get an Amen?

Sarabeth Jones gets along with the voices in her head, for the most part. She loves dabbling in all things creative, and is thrilled that this place finds her employable in exactly that capacity. She writes about her life, her family, and occasionally her faith.

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3 Responses

  1. Oh, Sarahbeth! Thank you for this. As a former Lutheran myself, I only recently came to realize that we were perceived as strange. Recently, my husband and I went to a church in this tiny town where we currently live and when the pastor found out I was raised Lutheran he said something about anti-semitism. Um, no. Definitely not that. What the heck?
    Anyway, now I’m a proud Methodist (who went to Catholic school) and I will faithfully follow your commandments.

  2. Amen, sister! Having been raised Church of Christ, and therefore not allowed to as much as clap in church much less bang a tambourine, I appreciate and recognize these commandments more than you know. Thank you for this lovely post!

  3. Amen, Sister Jones, and again I say, amen!
    Being a born-and-raised Presbyterian (no, not the ones in full length skirts and fabulous updo’s), who is currently and henceforth married to a Southern Baptist, humor and hymns go hand-in-hand for me.
    Because how can you not laugh by the time you hit the umpteenth verse of “Just as I am”?

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