30 June 2009

The 2002 Claire

Author's note: I started editing this old piece to polish the writing, but I soon found that my perspective in 2009 was at odds with my perspective in 2002. Initially, I tried reworking it to align with my outlook today, but the undertaking was going to radically alter the story. All this is to say, I probably shouldn't post this, but I will anyway because it reflects my reaction at a particular place and time seven years ago. Think of it as a piece about someone who shares my name, a taller than average tale, if you will.

Now that it's the summer term and parking's not so cutthroat, I've been going home for lunch. It's a welcome change to my usual drive-thru lunch fare followed by lot roaming to find a space so I can eat in my car.

Tossing my backpack over my shoulders, I was about to head upstairs to my apartment when a young African American woman appeared from the house next door and addressed me. In an effort to cultivate my emerging friendly self, I kept up my end of the chit-chat. She commented, "It's weird, y'know? Somebody's door is three feet away from yours and you don't know their name." I nodded though I'd never been bothered by that fact.

"I'm Ingrine," she said. She planned to attend college in the fall but is working full-time this summer to make money. I got the impression that she was new to the area. I answered her queries and explained that I'd already graduated and now work at the university. To my own surprise, I even went so far as to explain that I'd lived in LA for three years and then moved back when she asked how long I'd lived here.

"So what church do you go to?" she asked in complete seriousness.

The question was so ludicrous, as those who know me can attest, that I was stunned silent. I live in the South, right. "Uh… I'm really just a heathen. I wouldn't know where to begin."

She was really quite deft as she invited me to go with her roommates to church that Sunday. I felt like knocking myself in the head; I'd given her the perfect opening within five minutes of meeting, and now my lunch hour was ticking away. She pitched her church as a good mix of young people, not just students but young professionals as well, not just black or white. Man, she has it down.

I said, "Thank you for the offer. I'll keep it in mind," to be polite. She warned me the congregation is very outgoing, welcoming, and loving even to newcomers. I told her I was anti-social to which she immediately identified having had moments herself when she needed to be alone. But she went on to say that it's a great thing to experience the unity and love of this group.

"My hope is that you'll try it not once but twice," Ingrine said. "The first time to get your bearings and the second to really get a feel for it. We don't just go to church on Sundays and then go back to doing whatever the rest of the week. We really try to live by the bible all the time."

Ah. "Live by the bible" was a code phrase for me triggering the absolute certainty that I would never attend even for the heck of it.

Ingrine wrote her name and number on the back of a card she retrieved from her trunk. "If you have questions, you can always talk to me or either of my roommates," she said, handing me the slip. It was a business card for her church. I still have no idea what denomination it is and do not care enough to find out.

"Thanks again for the invitation, but I'm not promising anything."

"That's good, it's means you're a woman of your word. So when you say, 'yes,' I'll know you'll mean it."

Oh brother. As I ascended my stairs finally extracted from our conversation, I thought to myself, I should've just said I was an atheist like my brother did when we were kids.

In the town where we grew up there was an unusual Christian group, BS. Their members were not thought well of by most of the town to put it diplomatically. In a small, white, predominantly Catholic town, they were an easy target for derision.

My parents used to rent out part of our house. A family with two daughters, several years younger than my brother and I, lived there for many years. The father, Jerry, was so strong he could grab on to a small tree trunk or pole and hold his body out horizontally from it. Having him around was like having a strongman/acrobat where we lived: awesome. But then his wife joined BS and brought the girls with her. Jerry didn't join and they got divorced. He moved out, but his wife and daughters remained.

One day my brother and I were playing on our jungle gym and Jerry's daughter Bree, maybe age 5, came over and insisted we be "saved." I was probably 9 which would've made my brother 13. Bree relentlessly insisted we say, "I accept Jesus Christ into my heart." My brother said he was an atheist, made her cry, and wandered off.

I was more of an agnostic at the time and also unwilling to be so brutal. Eventually I caved and said it to get her to shut up. I told her I didn't mean it, but she said it didn't matter because I'd said the words. How can it not matter? It still bothers me and reminds me why so much of religion seems to be a variety of scams.

Turns out BS really was a cult scam. A member of one of the prominent families in town was brainwashed into giving them money; lawsuits ensued and essentially they were run out of town in short order.

Next time: "I'm an atheist." Let 'em cry.

A year ago on TTaT: 1000


  1. Your brother definitely had the right idea. Not that I'm an atheist or anything, but to get someone to STFU? Yeah, I might resort to it.

  2. I don't really want to make anyone cry, but I'm fairly certain I'd be much more direct about my disinterest in attending church now.

    Whatever someone else wants to believe--that's up to them. Also, I have nothing against spirituality. It's the intolerance and bigotry in some formalized religions that gives me pause.

    When I lived in Tally, I had conversations like that far more often than I cared for.