Religion and rock and roll were both ruined for me by the same thing: I started really listening to the words. I would not go back to my old ways. But it makes me a conspicuous element in a front pew at a Christmas Eve service.
I have no quarrel with many of the general principles espoused by the followers of God, but church has become more than just a boring interlude before we get gooey breakfast pastries on our way home to enjoy the rest of the day. And I don't mean that in a sappy TV movie way. "More" in this case means "more mind-bendingly encumbered with wacky beliefs about supernatural beings and human sacrifices," and "more disturbingly filled with group chants and rituals."
Add to this my aversion to singing in public and you get one stressed unbeliever on public display among a bunch of happy Christians.
I do mean Christian in the best sense. If I was going to be one, I would be one with them. The sermon was about welcoming strangers. I am the habitual stranger. I do not assimilate.
I hope my Episcopalian friends who are the cellist's friends and fellow musicians will forget anything they might have seen that betrayed my lack of Christmas spirit. They kindly placed me by the choir with whom the cellist sang as a guest, little realizing the position in which it placed me with my conscience and my lack of vocal range and control.
I'm a back-row churchgoer who accidentally ended up stuck in prime real estate last night. I like what they do. I'm glad they do it. I just don't need to do it with them. I prayed that someone deserving would come up and ask me with puppy-dog eyes if I would kindly give up my front-row seat to their ailing mother or something so I could slither back to my natural habitat looking at the backs of a bunch of heads. I might even be able to slip out the side door into the comforting raw fog that made the darkness that much darker. But no, of course it didn't happen. Would it have made me believe in miracles? I had to sit there looking suitably reverent while the words ran in my head as if I was saying them but I could not open my lips to affirm a belief I do not hold. If judge there be, I hope I get a few points for honesty before a foot to the forehead starts me down the sliding board to eternal fire. But I will no doubt get a few demerits for being a poor guest and not joining in with the culture with wholehearted verve just to help them keep the party at full festivity. Really, what IS wrong with me?
Strange as it may seem, I was happy to be there for the reasons I was
there: the cellist is loved and respected by this warm group who also
surround and connect with her father. The mortal remains of her mother
and brother rest on the church grounds. As much as I wanted it to be
over, I would not have wanted it not to happen. And I did not want to just send her out on the foggy night alone to do her thing and then come back.
Suddenly I understand just wanting to shut up and play a drum. It can mean whatever you want it to mean while keeping a nice beat for the other celebrants. Too bad that wasn't an option. Music Director James Fitzpatrick asked me if I wanted to sing and I couldn't decline fast enough. If he'd offered extraneous percussion I would have joined immediately. Well, maybe not tambourine.
Every believer picks and chooses scripture and interpretation. At what point should you cease to call yourself by a familiar denominational designation and honestly examine your spirituality without the cocoon of an institution? You can find your social capital in any number of affiliations. And some of us really are reclusive. That may not make us defective. We'll simply never join a group to represent our rights and beliefs. Talk about an invisible minority. We'll just be known as "that weirdo in the front row who didn't say any of the prayers or sing any of the hymns and carols," or other descriptions psychological or anatomical. As long as you feel freaked out by us as individuals rather than a monolithic bloc we can't ask for much more.