My Daddio and his brother used to sit outside of the Baptist church on Sundays listening to the choir and songs of worship, though as little white boys, they never went inside. This was the 50s, after all. He told me that he learned a lot about music from those Sundays on the steps. I always imagined what was going on inside as that scene from "Blue Brothers" when Jake and Elwood go into the church and get saved and everyone is singing and clapping and the black people are doing somersaults in the air. Now that's church.
Since it's Black History Month, I took my co-worker up on her offer to go to her church, which, according to the other people in the office who'd been, was pretty much just like that scene in "Blues Brothers." So yesterday, I attended Sunday services at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Queens. Forgot my power drill in her car afterwords, too. Have you ever been to a black church? You should go. It's all kinds of awesome. Everyone's singing and clapping and holding hands and yelling "Hallelujah!" and "Praise Jesus!" As my friend RiskingHemlock said when I told him where I would be on Sunday, "They party down with Lord!"
It's not what I'd call a leisurely experience. The service lasts three hours and you get really emotionally connected to what's going on. The sermon has a lot of call and response. People stand up and raise their arms if the spirit moves them. The organist plays a chord to punctuate the pastor's words. There's a lot of audience participation. And one woman in the choir had this shiny pink thingie, almost like a fairy wing, that she whirled over her head when she was singing. I was jealous; I wanted a fairy wing, too.
The theme for this week's sermon, delivered by Reverend Elaine, was about discrimination, so we got to hear about Paul and Barnabas, circumcision, President Obama, and her childhood church in Tennessee. My favorite bit was about a young woman who had to get up in front of the congregation and apologize for getting pregnant out of wedlock, "But the brothers never had to get up and apologize for getting the girls pregnant!" Lots of approval from the crowd on that one. And when this woman got going, she sounded exactly like I always imagined a black preacher would sound, with gasps of emotion at the end of some of her words. "And God-ah! does not discriminate-ah! against you because you're not light enough, not dark enough, not thin enough-ah, not tall enough, not smart enough, or not rich enough! Turn to your neighbor and say, Jesus loves you and so do I!" Lots of turning to your neighbor, lots of hugging and shaking hands and offering words of encouragement. It was great.
I've been to a lot of different kinds of religious services. In New York, I go to the synagogue on high holy days with the BF. At home in Hawaii, I'm a member of a Zen Buddhist temple. I went to a Catholic service in Peru where I didn't understand a word and wasn't allowed to go up to the front to get a cookie, which was my perception of communion. I've to youth group retreats with a Baha'i friend, Lutheran services with my college roommate, and one full moon celebration with a bunch of lesbian witches. When it comes to religion, I've been around.
So when I say that my Sunday in the black church was the best of all of them, that's really saying something. (No offense to the witches, you used to be my number one, it's just that your music wasn't as good.) Services at the AMC reminded me, more than anything, of the funerals and baby luaus we used to have in Ka'u: the exuberance, the joy, the rocking out, everyone at ease with the balance between the spiritual and the physical.
Speaking of the physical, I mentioned earlier that I left my power drill in my coworker's car, which bears some explanation. I don't usually bring power tools with me to houses of worship, though I did get in some good jokes about Jesus the carpenter. "I thought we were going to build something!" The BF wanted to borrow my drill for his latest film project, but he already had so much to carry on Sunday morning that I offered to help him out by schlepping the Bag 'O Drill. He got on one bus, I got on another, and I looked down and realized that I had kept the bag. Okay, I thought, I guess I'm taking the drill to church. But I didn't take it into the building with me; that would've been weird. When my coworker dropped me off at my apartment afterwards, I forgot to bring the drill up with me. I expect I'll get it back today after work.
Turn to your neighbor and say, "Jesus loves you and so do I." Yes, right now, wherever you are. Put a little bit of awkward into somebody's day!