12 July, 2006

Six Heads And Green Skin

Every day I hear the song that mocks me:

Welcome to the ARC-tic EDGE! Where Ad-ven-ture meets COURAGE!"

The song has cool motions and a happening "this ain't your momma's VBS" beat. And I'm anything but couragous. I've gone to this church for several years, but I tend to go to the same handful of rooms and corridors each week. I've got a nice little comfort zone, and this week my own adventure is meeting my own courage (or lack thereof.)

It turns out that this decades-old downtown church has bizarre corridors and staircases that rival any mazes which have cropped up in my favourite anxiety dreams. Inside each room--tricked out to resemble igloos, ski lodges and wilderness campgrounds--are packs of unfamiliar children being taught by the women who brought them into the world. Let me introduce you to the introvert's nightmare. It's called "walking into someone else's classroom and drawing attention to yourself by wielding a camera and flashing lights." None of this is made easier by the few older women who have no idea who I am. My first day was made even more comfortable by several accusatory questions. No, I'm not a freaky pedophile. Yes, I am taking pictures for The Church. One lady, conveniently reminiscent of my 8th grade typing teacher, nearly sent me from the First Grade room screaming for my life. Perhaps it was because she caught me trying to take a picture of the three boys riding around on broomsticks. They were shouting "I'm gonna get you, Voldemort." (I think I was the only adult in the room who had the vaguest idea what they were up to.) I think, though, it was really about recognising me as being unrecognisable.

There is a caste system among the women of any church. It was this way in the New Testament (remember Mary and Martha?) and will be this way until the New Jerusalem. To pretend it doesn't exist is both very naive and very unfortunate. I myself belong to the "we just don't know what to do with her" caste. People like me are writers, painters, gardeners. We don't have children--so we can't fit conveniently in the "she's Madison Grace's mother" group. We aren't single--so we don't fit conveniently in the "poor thing never found a man like me" group. We keep to ourselves as much as possible, because our "gifts" aren't as immediately useful as those who can sing or play the autoharp. We don't make very good casseroles and don't ask us to do anything that might involve something fragile. God's little joke on the shy is to give us a task where we are mostl likely to break or destroy something in front of the largest possible group of people. At our Veteran's Breakfast I spilled hot coffee all over some poor man. At least I was married to him. But still. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

The funny thing, though, is that (like Hagar) God heard my cry in the wilderness. On the night of my Horrible No Good Very Bad Monday I told Hubby I didn't want to go back because I felt so incredibly out of place. But I made a committment so I was back on Tuesday, praying the whole time that I'd make it through without being tarred and feathered in the First Grade room, or mocked out the front door by any one of the Real Mothers. Two things happened that were definitely the work of a Bigger God than I give credit to.

A friend from my Sunday School class--as introverted as I, and a fellow writer--was working in a behind-the-scenes area. Our heart to heart in between kids coming for popsicles revealed that I am not the only person scared to death by these things.

And then there was a little girl. I swear to you that this child looks exactly like me at 4, or like the child I might have had in an alternate universe. She's 4 and she was doing exactly what I felt like doing. Sitting in a corner, not talking to anyone and staring wistfully at the bookshelf in the corner. I sat my butt on the floor and we chatted. "I just love books!" she told me. Then we looked at her money--there was a bird on one side and a man's head on the other!--and she told me about her new pink bedroom and the penguin movie she has at home. The teacher for the class (a friend of mine) looked at us in amazement. No one else could get her to talk. How do I describe that people like me recognise each other? And that people like me may be comfortable on the edge, but we have to sometimes join in the group. I know that, and that's why I keep showing up to take pictures.

My little friend and I went to the music group so she could show me how to work the rhythym sticks. Neither she nor I could quite beat in time with everyone else. But we were there at the edge of the circle, and we were playing along. Our drummer is a different beat, but we're joining in the band.

I'll be there tomorrow.


At 12:32 AM, July 13, 2006, Blogger dailydiablogger said...

In person you seem so not introverted.
Shake it up, girlfriend, while wearing pink and silver hoop earrings.

At 5:57 AM, July 13, 2006, Blogger SistaSmiff said...

Madison Grace...HA! How many of those are there running around our local Babatist churches??

Yay for you for jumping in there. It can be tough when you don't fit the stereotypical church lady (hit it, Pearl) and I don't either. Yes, I have the kids, but, I appear to be a single mother since Mr. Smiff is gone most of the time, and Bapatist churches can be very couple oriented. In the right place, people accept you don't have a Madison Grace or a faithful, attending spouse and if they're smart, they'll figure out what an asset you can be to the body.

At 6:55 AM, July 13, 2006, Blogger newscoma said...

I was going to say what dia said. Did you catch you some Stephen King on the tube last night.
We're Cumberland Presybterian, but the nieces go to the Artic Edge with their friends.
It seems to be an extremely positive experience for them and they have enjoyed it.

At 8:06 AM, July 13, 2006, Blogger jag said...

I'm glad your (and Alexander's) day got better by the end. I could have used someone like you at my church when I was little.

At 8:37 AM, July 13, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

I'm very introverted, but I'm also the oldest child of two very active-in-the-community people. And I'm a pretty decent actress.

Basically, I learned from a very young age how to act like I wasn't terrified of people. It's a good survival skill.

And if I connect with someone on some level about something, I'm focused on that connection and ignoring the scary parts. So the blogger meetup was easy because we (most of us) had multiple connections.

The one person with whom I had no real connections was Gandalf Mantooth, and he thought I was horrified to talk to him because of him. Not because of me. ;-p

And I missed King last night because we were watching the tour. I didn't even think about it. I'll try and tivo the other weeks.

At 8:47 AM, July 13, 2006, Blogger Amy said...

that's a beautiful post. I don't even really know you but I'm smiling because I feel sort of proud of you :)

At 11:38 AM, July 13, 2006, Anonymous Shauna said...

That really made me smile.

At 4:49 PM, July 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah ... the whole "no children" thing throws a lot of church people for a loop :) Where to put them ... How to reference who they are to other people?

I'm glad you're here this week :) It's fun seeing you from a far... down one of those scary corridors in our CENTURIES-old church ;)

~ Lacy

At 9:07 AM, July 14, 2006, Blogger Aunt Lydia said...

I'm so glad you jumped in there this week. I'm sorry some people weren't so kind. I know their intentions were good, but that's no excuse. I'm glad some other people in the church are getting to know you and see what a great person you are.

One of the main things I miss about working there is the children, especially during VBS. It's a special, but draining week. I was brought up in church, my grandfather is a Baptist preacher, my dad was a deacon, I did all the church things growing up - but I came to Christ during a Vacation Bible School. That's why I think it's one of the most significant things we do as a church. It was a week that I really felt love from adults and was a highlight of an otherwise boring summer. I would usually go to Bible School at my home church and then go to my grandparents' for a week and go to VBS at their church. The teachers there were always impressed when I knew all the answers. ;-)

At 5:02 PM, July 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really became disillusioned when I started feeling this way at church, because although I assumed it would be different, church can be just like high school where lots of different people try to get along. All my insecurities come out on Sunday morning, and if I'm not careful I can leave feeling less than blessed. But I keep going because I know I belong there, too.

I like how you think and how you write.


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