February 12, 2018

snow globe

Redemption is not the copyrighted, trademarked property of Christians.  It belongs to us all.

Much was as I expected.  The bones and sinews of the church were intact.  Scant remodeling has been done.  The mid-century water fountain in the hallway has been removed.  A projector screen has been added in the sanctuary.  The rest of it, the door knobs and hymnals and cinder block walls and brochures in the vestibule, are encased in a snow globe.  Time has barely brushed against this place.

The book of my grandmother's poetry is of the unwieldy large, square scrapbook variety, which made it nearly impossible to deal with on the seasoned copier.  Half of my time was spent trying to figure out a way to capture the pages.  A second book held one-page memorials to many I knew in childhood who have since "gone to be with the Lord."  She wrote poems for most of them.  I snapped photos of these with my phone.  I gathered her in, as much of her as I could.

The pew is still wobbly.

But the good stuff, ah.  Four people who also seem untouched by time, save for some graying hair, like mine.  The hugs were not dignified; they were long, tight hugs that spanned twenty-five years, the kind of hugs where you sway back and forth just a little, hugs that embraced my grandmother's memory.  Mary Jane.  Martha.  Vickie.  Jim.  I jumped up with joy each time I saw one of them.  They did the same.

They did the same.

I could venture that an exception was made for me because of Grandma.  I could say that Southern hospitality was substituted for love.  I could even go so far as believing that they didn't know, that the protective barrier created by my cowardice in not coming out as an atheist, never mind gay, turned it all into just a kid raised in the church coming back as an adult and triggering trips down Memory Lane.  But I know better.  I wrote an open letter to the church many years ago, about my orientation and scripture that challenged the church's rigid stance, and entrusted it to Mary Jane by mail, asking her to share it with key people.

They knew.  They knew, and they did the same.

How old is your son now?  You are kidding me!  You remember babysitting for us?  Well, he's an attorney now, and she's got two young children, they still go here.  He's not doing well.  We had to move into a one-level house so he could get around.  I'm retired and loving every minute of it.  It was a year ago that your grandmother passed, right?  Oh, we miss her so much.  She was a dear woman, and hit every alto note.  I always listened for her voice in the choir.  You tell your daddy I hope they're doing all right.

My daddy surprised me when I came out to him, around the same time I wrote that letter.  I expected it to terminate our relationship, but instead, he said, "Well, when can we meet her?"  Later, thinking out loud, he told me, "You know ... I think I believed what I believed because somebody told me I should, but when I got to thinking about it, I realized I don't."  Coming from a man who used to tell me that a report card with straight A's was "fair," that was absolute acceptance.

There is much lip service paid to love in those fundamentalist churches.  The love of God within us, shown to us, shining through us so that others might see it and know it.  Evangelism.  Conformity.  Believing what they believe because somebody told them they should.  But some sneak out human, leave the safety of the shells and windbreakers of their faith.  They love.  Not with their faith, but with their hearts.  Not the love of God.  Their own love.  One of these is real.

(I wasn't wrong to be wary.  There is real hate, too.  The love, then, is all the more precious.  Love because of.  Love in spite of.  Love that isn't saccharine.  Love that taps roots.)

I stayed for choir practice and part of Sunday evening service.  We sang "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee."  We sang "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us."  I sang out loud and clear.  Vickie sat beside me and said I sounded just like Grandma.  I sang out to the vaulted ceiling, to the stained glass windows, to the loose hinges and bolts and the scent of the worn hymnal and my old seat in the choir loft.  I sang out to my child's simple awe and to all of my memories in that place, sang out to shake the little globe and watch the snow swirl in chaos and then fall around us, landing on the branches of the olive tree.

When the piano playing stopped, I retrieved my jacket and purse, hugged Martha and Mary Jane goodbye, and put the snow globe carefully back on its shelf.  It would have felt selfish, having taken so much away, but I left behind extra paper in the copier, and an epilogue, and a graft of a small part of my deviant branch back onto the tree.

I drove home, returned to the present time, the love of four people within me, shown to me, shining through me so that others might see it and know it.  P.J. was relieved that it went well, and saw that I was glowing.  In that moment, I felt like the most loved banana in the world.

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