Proud to Be Inglorious

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I was late. I was notoriously late. But this time, I had my reasons. Leaving my family after dinner to drive to the church in town, I took an incorrect turn onto a road that made a thirteen-point-turn necessary to get my vehicle facing the other direction. I found the correct entrance the second time. After pulling into the complicated church parking lot, I glanced around in rushed uncertainty. After inching along what was possibly the most confusing strip of concrete on the planet, I found my spot and pushed my way into the double doors on the side of the church, which where incidentally perfectly identical to every other entrance. I think the designers of the building had some fun, because every single hallway was the same, with the same dimensions and the same carpet and the same picture of Jesus hanging in a fashion that makes it the first thing you see when you walk in.


After walking in circles for five minutes, down what seemed to be a stream of identical hallways that mocked me and turned me in wrong directions, I finally found the room where I was supposed to be. Closing the door softly behind me, the whisper of my entrance, I smoothed my skirt and slid onto the pew next to my best friend, whose family filled the back row. She smiled at me. I smiled at a girl sitting in the front pew with her hair curly and her smile burning her cheeks pink.


She was the girl who used to fill up old composition notebooks at midnight with me, who used to come to my house and eat cherry tomatoes out of the garden, who used to obsess over Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and scoff at Star Wars junkies, who used to spend the night and make a mess in the kitchen with cinnamon-sugar toast when it was too early for my parents to be awake. This was the girl who betrayed me in fourth grade, who made me jealous in sixth grade, and helped me through my first ballet class freshman year. But I doubt she remembered any of that.


Her hair was wet, drying in loose ringlets around her covered shoulders. A pastor who only knew her as “the girl who had been coming to church for the past few months,” stood at the podium talking about how wonderful she was and how God loved her as his daughter. The spines of the hymn books cracked and the music of fifty voices filled the church. I didn’t sing. The people around me could recite each hymn in the book by memory, play the piano part, and probably even do it with authentic feeling. I didn’t know a single part to a single hymn. But it didn’t bother me.


After somebody’s adorable seven-year-old sister gave a shy and mumbled closing prayer, the room breathed back to life as the pews emptied and feet slowly shuffled themselves out the door. I stood in line to give the girl in the front pew a hug. And it was a hug I truly meant.


Before joining everyone in the room next door for refreshments, I took a wrong turn again. But this time it was on purpose. Opening another door identical to the row of doors lined up like dominoes along the never-ending hallway, I slipped in quietly. They hadn’t emptied the tub yet, and the lukewarm water was still spinning a little to the right, the hint of a whirlpool. It wasn’t a glamorous tub, nothing like the one in the temple. The white robes lined up like soldiers on hooks along the wall, declaring the pure simplicity of baptisms. Peering down at my reflection quivering in the rippling tub, I let my mind wander. What made this water so special? What made people believe that it would allow a person to receive the Holy Spirit, when only the day before they lacked such a connection?


Scraping the top of the water with my fingertips, I paused before plunging my hand below the surface, bringing up a cupped handful of the clear liquid. I could hear the drone of quiet chatter in the next room, congratulating the girl in the front pew and catching up with old friends. This water had changed their lives. They were different people because of it. Their baptisms were not just ceremony, but had allowed them to receive the God they revolved their lives around.


I’ve been asked before if I would like my turn in the tub. By my friends, by pastors at ceremonies, by chaperones at church dances. Not pressured, just asked. Even if they never sated it directly, I knew it was a hope all of those people had for me. They wanted to save me and my entrance into Heaven.


But I wasn’t so sure I wanted to believe in a God who fosters fear. A God who provided us with original sin, who tells us what we can and cannot do, and every consequence for every one of our actions. A God who we must ask for forgiveness, and proclaim our lives to. If the first step to being holy is being whole, why would God give you an aspect of yourself and demand that you overcome it? I know who I am, and who I am is not a member of the church. I stare down into the tub of crystalline, beautiful water, knowing that I would never suppress or sacrifice any part of myself in order to be submerged in it. This is one right of passage I will not take part in. This thought floods my mind as I open the door, walk pleasantly into the next room, and talk to my friends before excusing myself to go home and watch Inglorious Bastards with my family. Like I said, I know who I am.





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