Saturday, June 22, 2013

White and Black Church Service circa: My Youth.

[copied/pasted from personal correspondence. This is my account of a church service that occurred in my youth, when a black church was invited to join a white church (which my family attended) to praise the lord with music. I was in a kid's choir at the time. This story was not originally intended for public consumption, but here it is anyway. Also... don't be offended by anything I say, pls.]

No, no... what actually went down is this:

My family went to the Presbyterian Church up on Broad Street. It was a fairly musical church - multiple choirs and groups - I played handbells, too, just to give you an idea of the background and budget of this setup. We had a handbell-only group of 12 or more folks playing beautiful brass bells in a very organized and fancy fashion.

Not many black people at our church. We had one - Leon Spencer - who is a fantastic black guy if you can only boast one. Otherwise, it was an overwhelmingly white congregation where most stereotypes about white-folks would apply beautifully.

Christ Temple was a black church. It was far from the starched-collar formal setup like we had. They worked up to a loud volume when they sang about the lord. Their fever-pitch was reached regularly and it always included body-movement. The bond between the churches, I think, was imagined or hypothetical. Real or not, an invitation was extended to Christ Temple to join Kennett Presbyterian in a service to praise God together through music. Genius. So the white folks did some music, and then the black folks did some music. A few hymns were sung together, but the rest of it played out like a friendlier version of a white people vs. black people basketball game in a movie. But it wasn't really a competition. I'm sure that most people there - white and black - felt really great about themselves for solving racism.

I give full credit to whoever organized the service. I think it's great when groups of humans with different backgrounds are made to interact. From an anthropological standpoint, I think it's interesting and always worth the effort. I don't know if it changed opinions about race or class on any measurable level, but even going through the motions is a positive sign, I think.

I wish I could see video confirmation of my memories of this event.

The whites at my church were all older and so-very-formal. We were a caricature of white people. Most members of Kennett Presbyterian were a breed of unfortunate accidental Republicans, and while they're not bad people, I don't think they know enough about how other people live for me to feel comfortable letting them vote without at least getting the squinky-sideways-eye from me. They wouldn't understand why the recent attempts at new voter ID laws are flatout racist, for example. They're not evil. They're just so naive that you daydream about smothering them with a pillow so they can't use their final breath to condescend to you. That was way too harsh. "Their actions induce routine eye-rolling."

Christ Temple is all working class black people who probably use church much more as a social gathering place than the whites who kind of get polished up and make an appearance on Sunday. They had a charisma and camaraderie that you couldn't help feeling a bit jealous of. And when it came to music, they were the JESUS in ALL CAPS kind of folks. The black women got in the aisles and clapped and shouted. They danced and their eyes closed tight as they praised the name of the Lord. To all the whites, I think this was quite a novelty and probably made some feel insecure with their own levels of praise.

Then it was our turn. The Nerdy-White-Kids-of-Various-Sizes Choir walked hesitantly to the front. "Tough act to follow" is the phrase that comes to mind. We were already awkward and quiet as it was - that was our baseline for any performance. In this setting, any level of stage fright or anxiety was amplified by the absurdity of what was about to happen. In semi-unison and with muted tones, we sang a painfully slow and purposeful rendition of the song about Noah's "Ark-y ark-y."

The next song of Christ Temple's choosing was not performed by some certain set inside the congregation. It was men and women and children accompanied by various folks on various instruments. They had horns going, man. They played loud and they had soul. There was a minutes-long crescendo building to another call-and-response about the mighty all-caps JESUS. They had a kid who was killing it on a cheap drumset.

It was a great service to be a part of, but I only felt relief when it was time to go home.

I don't know what to make of any church anymore. For awhile there, I was still used to being in a church and it seemed like a neutral atmosphere. Now it seems creepy - Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, whatever. I feel the real separation that has grown between me and this style of religion. I won't give up on god as a concept, but now I am fully aware that by simply claiming to know one single thing about a god, churches have ruined their credibility with me. Why is it so fucking hard to claim you DON'T KNOW something that NOBODY possibly COULD know? Whatever the reason, I think this is responsible for a lot of pain and confusion. I start to feel frustrated and angry when I dwell on it, so I try not to. Here is a case where focusing on the aspects of absurdity can offer some relief.

I can paint this picture another way. Do you know the Stouffer's commercial with the line "nothing comes closer to home?"

I get that little melody ingrained in my head all the time, but I change the words to "nothing feels further from home." That's how I feel about church. That melody with my lyrical amendment perfectly sums up the exact nature of the disconnect between me and churches that are full of people who can only see the world through the goggles of their own socio-economic class. Goggles that they are free to shed at any time, but won't. That's how I feel about seeing semi-blind humans together in a room being controlled by leaders who often mean well, but who all-to-often are abysmal representatives of the human race.

"church-GO-ERS.... nothing feels further from hooooome..."