...All of these questions - from a place called 'holy' and an untouchable book - swirled in my head for six long years. It wasn't until I was 9, and after much begging, that I got to see what church was really like.
You see, I grew up a certain way. We didn't need God. We didn't even want God. We made fun of the people who believed in God. We watched enough of the Simpsons (by which I mean, every episode) that I almost slipped and called my neighbor "Flanders" to his face. Because there were "good, Christian weirdos" and the rest of us, just "good people." We considered ourselves good people. Church...was for the weak. God was for the fragile. And at the very least, we resented the holier-than-thou attitude that churchgoers had, although in hindsight, I never recall actually encountering this. It was more a myth we perpetuated and saw beyond what we were actually seeing. We thought they took themselves, and their God, too seriously.
But I begged and begged, and my dad finally caved and took me to the United Methodist church across the highway from the house, the very church he and my mom had gotten married in. He wanted to wait for a special day, though, he said. He wanted to wait for a time when I could really see what a service was all about. He chose Palm Sunday. I was in third grade.
We walked in, me in a dress and dad in nice slacks and a shirt. Maybe even a tie, which was a rare event for him. The man greeting the guests smiled heartily, welcomed us, and handed each of us a very long palm frond. I was excited! What was this for? It could only be wonderful, to my young mind.
We took a seat in a pew somewhere near the middle, closer to the back. The place was by no means packed. In front of us sat an older lady in her Sunday best hat, the way older ladies always wore hats to church. By the time service began, dad was already restless. He started having a mock sword fight with his palm frond and mine, but I was too intimidated by the holy place to play back. When I didn't respond, he looked at me with that sheepish grin of his and started to poke the old lady's hat.
She shot us a look.
A few minutes of that behavior, and all of a sudden, the man with the smile was standing at the end of our pew, and he wasn't smiling. He made sort of a motion with his head, and my dad looked at me. "Have you seen enough?" he asked. I hadn't seen anything, but I nodded like good girls do, and we left. Much to the relief of the congregation.
I wanted to go back, and after a year of begging and pleading and an additional amount of asking dad to just be good, we returned to the UMC the next...Palm Sunday. Palm fronds in hand. That year, too, we had to leave to before I ever figured out what the palm frond meant. Before I ever figured out what they did with those things. I'll leave it to your imagination why such a departure might be necessary.
And so I guess maybe we weren't holy people. Maybe we didn't belong in a place like that. Certainly, my dad didn't put much stock in it. He couldn't even be good long enough for me to have my questions answered (which I foolishly thought would happen if I could ever make it to the amen). Those two short Sundays, one year apart, six years from the first sanctuary, just confirmed what I'd felt - this really wasn't the place for me. I didn't belong in a place like this.
But I couldn't figure out what was so damned wrong with me - or so damned special about them - that kept me out. And I still wondered. I still wanted to know what holy was. I still wondered what happened in "church." Fast forward a few years, and I'm about to find out...