Church Girl

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl – Age 22

After the "Sermon"
The Sermon after party with my sisters and nephew…

Yesterday I headed to the grocery store in hopes of getting cheap eggs; otherwise, I avoided shopping areas at all costs.

Because the next day was going to be Easter.  Time for Peeps, pantyhose, shoes, and Easter ham.

At sunrise, I was on the tail end of a 15 mile run.  I’d run through the park, then through ‘hoods where the ladies were waiting for the bus in silver soft soled pumps; others no doubt still inside getting decked out in big hats and pastel suits; little girls  getting shiny-ed up with Vaseline and smelling like pressing oil and little boys in miniature ‘gators  hoping not to forget any lines of their recitations.

Because it was forecast to be pretty warm, I expected to smell hams and pies baking from open kitchen windows.

I was heading home at 8, so little of that happened.  But after my shower, snack, and nap, I’m  finally about to head out to the store to get some odds and ends, an outsider to that world: a heathen of sorts.

As I did the closest thing one can to a sprint with boulders blocking her hips and a sore gluteus maximus, I finished up my run downtown–near the Y where others with whom I can’t exactly identify were sweating out their usual Sunday routine, no overt acknowledgment of the day’s significance among Christians (and non-Christians too if the Monument Easter Parade is any indication).

At age 22, I delivered sermons.  Like, process-with-the-choir-and-sit-in-the-pulpit sermons.  Stop laughing: I’m serious.

How I got from there to here is a sordid tale.  Okay, not really.  It just kind of happened.

My Christian upbringing was rarely a religious one–a good part of it was but mostly not just that.  There were evening prayers, pre-meal “grace,” Sunday School every Sunday, 11:00 service, and youth group memberships.  Over time, the religious activities just took on new forms; the spirituality part taking precedence over them.  And the rigid black and whites of my moral code began to understand that greys are merely shades of both.

It would be inaccurate for me to claim Christianity as my “religion” these days although its influence on my beliefs and lifestyle is apparent.  It would be inaccurate for me to claim a religion period.  But I am not the heathen the saints in the storefront on Broad might imagine.

At 22 that was quite apparent: that year I complained in my journal that being a “good girl” was wreaking havoc on my dating life.  Vic from Jersey had asked me to be his study partner despite the A’s he, too, was getting in Early American Literature.  It quickly became obvious that wasn’t the kind of partner he was looking for.  And he confirmed my suspicion when he came over to “study” by never opening his bookbag.  Our conversation started with my big block “Love” ring: What you know ’bout love?

It ended when I told him I went to church on Sundays: Oh so you a church girl?  A good girl, he added to clean up what wasn’t meant to be an insult but felt like one nonetheless.

And then there was Maurice.  Maurice who made sure to hug me so that there would be no question as to the fact that he had a penis and how big it was, began calling me his little sister because after all, as he told his friends at the hangout spot in front of my dorm: I was a good girl.  That was after I didn’t go to the umpteenth party he invited me to where I had heard the girls could wine better than Patra.  I g’wan come to chu’ch witchu dough…I know ’bout de chu’ch.

At 22, nearly a year post-Vic, I wrote and delivered a “sermon” that was probably reminding me as much as the mixed-age audience to who it was delivered to not to yield to the easy temptation to be anything other than the good girl, whom they were right, I was. So I stayed pretty date-less and ummm, yeah…

But the point is **giggling**ultimately, no matter what one is called, it’s what s/he answers to that counts.

I have never enjoyed being boxed in and particularly hated it when my morality got thrown back in my face because I wore earrings and pants, or on the other hand, it became the double edged sword that dismisses all that I am in favor of a single, albeit defining, part of it.  Okay, I admit I hold myself to rather rigid standards–I just no longer accept or define that as “Christian.”

At 22 I was beginning to tire of the rigid definitions of spirituality and since am finding more peace in my grey than in the blacks and whites.

Here’s the “sermon” I delivered then:

Me and Miss Mary Powell
Me and Miss Mary Powell after my “sermon”

Yield Not to Temptation
August 1996

Have you ever wanted to tell the teacher that the dog ate your homework knowing you never did it anyway?  How many mornings have you contemplated calling in sick just to spend a day doing nothing?  Ever wondered who would ever notice if you took only one piece of candy off the abundant heap in the store?  And doesn’t it always seem inviting to take a fingertip of icing off the cake set aside for dessert?  Surely a little cursing and swearing with your peers could secure your popularity.  Whoever said that because everyone is doing it, whatever “it” is, it’s alright?  Since when have decisions been justified by the judgment of your peers rather than the ultimate judgment of God?

Though wiles of the Devil lure us all one time or another, God provided a prayer for his disciples that is also relevant for our lives.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we plead every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer. 

So you might have reminded yourself that no one saw you lick that icing off the cake or steal that candy in an effort to justify your actions.  But God saw.  You might feel comforted by the acceptance of your peers while “smoking Endo/sippin’ on gin and juice,” as rapper Snoop Dogg says.  Or maybe while “getting around” in the words of Tupac, another rapper.  But you must realize that your body is a temple where uncleanliness in the flesh and the spirit is unacceptable. 

All too many times we give priority to our way instead of God’s way.  It often seems a whole lot easier to go with the flow; ” be down like four flat tires” to “get in where we fit in.”  You must be aware that though you might cheat AIDS in all your promiscuity; you may never get caught in your lies; you may duck death in your drug exploits; you might even be able to ignore your conscious [sic] enough to get past it, but you’re running a race that you can never win.

See, what goes around always comes around.  A time is approaching called Judgment Day.  And everything will catch up with us there.  Now is the time to take God’s way.  He never told us that it would be easy but he promised us (and believe me, you can always count on His promises) strength in times of temptation, determination in the wake of adversity, and dignity in the face of persecution.  He has already prepared the Winner’s Circle–Heaven.

Yield not to temptation, ” the songwriter chides, “for yielding is sin…look ever to Jesus/he will carry you through.”  In addition, be sure that you’re always covered by the whole armor of God.  It consists of the belt of Truth, a breastplate of Righteousness, and some shoes of Readiness.  This is a lot of stuff, but you must stay prepared to beat this temptation thing.  You also need a helmet of Salvation, a shield of Faith, and a sword of the Spirit. 

Now don’t mistake yourself for a Power Ranger; you’re actually a Child of God.  Since you are a soldier in His army, all of this armor is free for the asking.  You don’t have to run from store to store to find it or charge up your credit cards to get this outfit.  God will also provide you with some special fruit.  They’re really sweet and if you keep eating them, your spirit is sure to be strong enough to fight off temptation.  God calls these Fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, and Self Control in Galatians 5:22-23. 

With all of these, you are sure to stay healthy and nice and full.  You can pick these fruit from your heart any time it’s clean and pure.  Remember, God cannot dwell in an unclean place!

That way, if our belt of Truth gets loose, God will be available to tighten it up before we call in to work with a lie. Or if one of our fruit gets sour He can sweeten it up so that we won’t slap the smart-mouthed sales clerk.

We are bound to slip up sometimes and that can be discouraging.  As David said, “When I would do good, evil is always present.”  But in those times, be reminded of Jehosophat’s struggle against the vast armies who were about to invade Judah.  Through Jehaziel, God spoke to Jehosophat and all of Judah, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of these vast armies.  For the battle is not yours, but God’s.”  (2 Chronicles 20:33)

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