Today we are back at Sebida Methodist church. Brad is preaching again. And Elena is ‘standing by her man.’ If that sounds a bit sarcastic, it isn’t meant to be. I’m coming to know the real Elena. Who knows one day we may even have a chapter written in point view. Does it seem odd that I haven’t? The reason could be that she is just a little too close to home for me.
Brad, Elena, Rahab & ???
Bradley Williams huddled in the back pew of the church as the last people began to arrive. He hoped he knew what he was doing. But it wasn’t like he had much choice in the matter. This one lay heavily on his conscience. And as much as logic dictated otherwise, he knew that this was the sermon he was meant to give. The rest he had to leave in god’s hands.
His wife handed Rahab off to her sister, who, along with her husband, sat in the front pew. He and Elena had gone over this time and again since the idea came to him. Her sweet voice began to fill the church as she strummed on that battered old guitar her mother had bought her second hand.
I’ve told you before that Sebida was a real place. I don’t say ‘is’ because I have not been back there in over twenty years. The optimist in me wants to believe that the new generation has made sweeping changes. The realist in me suspects it is yellow-toupe man territory.
What I’m not sure you know is that these were my years as that preacher’s wife. Yes, as well as stripper and personal trainer, I paid my dues as a preacher’s wife. That was never my intention. I married an upper-middle class intellectual atheist. The son of a professor and his lesbian ex-wife. It was as far as I could get from that my experience of growing up in a deeply flawed church where women and blacks were fighting for their rights. I was passed that ‘god’ stuff.
Then my sperm donor went and spoiled it all. On one of those exceedingly rare occasions when I reached out and tried to reestablish a relationship with the man who abandoned me, we had stayed briefly with him and his new family. We had gone to his ‘hee-bee-gee-bee’ church. That was my ex’s sarcastic term for charismatic, tongue-speakers. Like all my attempts at, yes, Reconciliation, this one imploded. Exploded so badly that we left in our little car with an eighth month old baby and less than a hundred dollars in our pockets.
Not that the experience was all bad. I fell in love with Sedona. I stood on the corner in Winslow, AZ. The problem was that my sperm donor had addicted my ex to a drug as powerful as crack. Yes, religion is a drug. Not faith but religion. And rather than focus on the hypocrisy of my sperm donor and his shiny new family, my ex wanted another hit of that ‘charisma.’ Less than eighteen months later he got ‘saved’ and checked that brilliant mind I loved at the door of the church.
I rested at first. It was another year before my need for approval, acceptance, and attempts to save my marriage roped me into that shit show. It was one of Houston mega-churches. With just enough token blacks, a food bank, and ministeries to ‘impoverished’ Mexico to justify the pastor’s lavish lifestyle and his adultery.
But I deceived myself again. Or at least kept mostly quiet about my ‘lack of faith.’ I even went so far as to go to the pastor’s school that my ex had finished the year before. Mind you, it cost money. Thousands of dollars. On top of the commitment to tithes 10%. And paying for those extra mission trips. I guess his Lexus wasn’t new enough. Or maybe the former church secretary and mother of his illegitimate child was demanding more child support?
One of those ‘extra’ trips was a retreat in the hill country. The ex and I paid handsomely for another hit of Jesus and attended. I remember walking that land and feeling more connection and presence than I did in anything of the meetings. On our way home to Houston, we went through Sebida.
And god spoke to me.
Perhaps even then the goddess within had my back. One thing I can give my ex was that he remained true to the equality and liberal feminism his mother taught him even in the church. My divine feminine was always respected. He even once commented that he felt the same presence of god when we had sex as when he attended those two-hour long ‘extra’ prayer meetings that left me alone with four children under five to parent. Okay, maybe he didn’t totally but he at least gave lip service to equality.
And in this, he listened to me. I quit ‘pastor’ school and off we went to Sebida. Like Esther, and now Laura and Ryan, we lived in house on the corner of the two main farm-to-market roads in town. It was right next door to Lizzie’s dinner and just two doors down from the little convenience store where run by Miss Patsy. Just a couple hundred feet down the road on the other side was Willard’s Feed & Seed.
But I didn’t spend that much time in town, all those Sebidians were already ‘saved’ and good upstanding adulterers, wife beaters, racists, and Baptists. No, the only way I could justify any of my actions was to be a Bradley. To spend more time out in the subdivisions with those ‘lost’ city folks. You see one of the Monroe brothers had given up dirt ranching. Instead, he subdivided his paltry inheritence into three and five acre homesteads and sold them to poor and working class city slickers trying to escape to their dream of self-sufficiency in the country.
Of course, it is never that easy. There weren’t any jobs locally. Some of the land did not have water, sewage, or power. And back them solar was in its infancy. You could have the Monroe’s crew build you a basic wood frame house – for extra, of course. It was a tough life. Many left after a couple of years, and the Monroe resold that land, taking another huge down payment. Well, a thousand dollars was a lot for most of those people.
I was the ‘church lady’ in our beat-up old Toyato pick-up. I came just to check up on people. I took food. I took coats and blankets in winter. I took toys at Christmas. And I made and delivered Thanksgiving dinner to those without power or water, who could not afford to eat at the diner. I only mentioned the Jesus and saving bit just enough to keep the head church and my husband happy.
But I was already seeing their hypocrisy. That mega-church was happy to collect food, old coats, blankets, and toys, but they would not support the work we were doing financially. My husband was still working his full-time job and ‘preaching’ in our living twice a week to a handful of converts. Then sending whatever small offering we collected back to the head church. I was waking up. To the church’s hypocrisy and Sebida’s nasty side.
My husband reached out to all the other preachers in town. Of course, the Baptist with its hundreds of people every Sunday swatted the little gnat away. The Methodists didn’t have many more people than we did. But they had that old building from another era. Valuable real estate and an idealistic lay preacher, though they had managed to find a middle-aged white man.
But it was the preacher of the AME church that I remember. AME is African Methodist Episcopal, because Methodists needed to save those poor enslaved souls, not that they were human enough to attend those white churchs though. Yes, that probably isn’t being fair and the history is more complex than that.
This man was in his early sixities. Like my husband, in addition to preaching, he worked a full-time job, but his was minimum wage. What I will never forget was that this preacher would not look my husband in the eye. He called him ‘sir.’ A man a quarter of a century younger was ‘sir’ by virtue of his white skin. And he did not dare shake the white woman’s hand, he only nodded to me.
That is one of my strongest memories of that place and town.
We gave up the pretense of ‘church.’ My ex took the children and traveled an hour into a nearby city to feed his habit. I saw it as a break for me. He still preached in prisons. And we drifted apart. As I feared he might be forbidden to cast off his unbeliever wife, but he was damned happy a few laters when I asked for a divorce. We were back in Houston then.
He never hit me. But our screaming matches were getting louder and more frequent. He did push me against walls and grab my arms so tightly that I bruised on a few occasions. The thing that finally gave me the courage to call it all off was when he dragged our oldest, who was thirteen at the time, from the garage, through the house, and up the stairs, hitting and beating him about the head and neck. And commanding the demons out of him.
In the name of Jesus. That might be a small atrocity in terms of the pantheon of them that has been committed in that man’s name, but it was the final straw for me. You don’t *f* with my kids. Not even in the name of Jesus. I believe he would be appalled at most of the things that have been done in his name. But not necessarily surprised. I do believe a man by that name lived and taught peace. There are a couple of historical records from around that time which cooroborate that. But the rest of my beliefs are so radical and personal that I don’t share them. They would make Dan Brown look ‘normal.’
Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying:
I like your Christ, but not your Christianity.
These days as I did even then I find my faith among the trees. Majestic, sentient beings that have been around long before me and will still be here long after me. If we humans don’t play god and cut them down. And in those tangible things that the brown man from Galilee taught us. Feed the hungry. Clothes the poor. And treat all with respect, dignity, and compassion.
If that ain’t good enough for whatever higher power is out there then….
By William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Perhaps there is something to the John Milton quote from Paradise Lost:
Better to rule in hell, than serve in heaven.
Certianly, if as I was taught there’s no sex in heaven. *F* that shit. Uh-oh, I’m getting close to revealing just how radical I truly am. I better go now.
Goddess bless you all with your own truth, whatever that may be,
PS…And yes, there was a crocked sheriff. He did rape single mothers and set up innocent District Attorney. He blew up the trailer of a drug dealer who would not cut him in. And he got away with the man’s murder in a court of law. Trust me, I ain’t that brilliant. I can’t make ALL that shit up.