Strange Religion

Jacki Erickson

© Copyright 2008 by Jacki Erickson


 I am utterly distracted by itchy trousers. The new cheapie design that look great on the outside, but, to save a buck, feel like sandpaper on the inside. No silk lining, no lining at all. I wish that I’d chosen a skirt for my first day of salvation. How am I supposed to meet God when my mind continually shifts downward to my navy blue pleated pants from hell? I am tempted to reach a hand through the snug waistband and run my sharp fingernails across my inflamed thigh; set my palm against my leg, a momentary relief from the abrasion. But I can’t, not when the ornately decorated glass doors have swung out revealing the new age church behind them. The man, a pastor or patron, I cannot tell, ushers me in smiling and pointing out the tables of free coffee.

 “Try the hazelnut,” he whispers and winks. I feel violated, nothing to do with his lips so close to the flesh of my ear, but because I like plain black coffee. No flavor or cream or sugar and no presumptuous men with recommendations on how I should live my life, or take my coffee for that matter.

 The lobby ripples with social activity. Jeans and t-shirts run amuck, another reminder that this is not your average church. Here they accept everyone in every form of dress. Three teenagers in black jeans and ripped t-shirts talk casually about this week’s band, while sipping from their styrofoam cups. They are in the loop, not the chain smoking wrist cutting loop, but the new cool. They’ve found Jesus and he is pretty hip. I stand out in my starchy pants and white blouse, my hair wrapped in a severe ponytail of discontent. I imagine slipping the pants off in the restroom and moving my belt to the center of my long white shirt, pull the rubber band from my hair and let it fall, the giant kink in the center just another statement of indifference. I am not here for fashion, I’m here for deliverance, right? Yet even the new messy haired look of zero effort style feels somehow shaped and conformed. As though stained jeans and messy hair don’t really count in the pool of fashion apathy because, quite frankly, they’re sold that way.

 In a collective wave the lobby moves toward the pews. They shuffle in, their flip flops and tennis shoes sliding along the thin burgundy carpeting. The band on stage casually sets up, each carrying on conversations with their friends crammed into the front row. I choose the center pew, the center seat, and cringe with each body shift, my ample thighs slowly rubbing raw. The young crowd leaks late nights and philosophical angst from their pores and I feel it sheath my clammy skin. I am young too, but my young is five years their senior. The adults in the room are simply larger versions of the teens. One woman, not a year below fifty, reveals no less than five earrings in her left ear, her profile exposing a tiny diamond stud clinging to her nose.

 The overhead lights dim, a soft strobe above the stage casts rainbows of color over the singing stage performers. I do not transcend like the other church goers as the Christian rock belts out of the giant speakers, located on either side of the stage. The whole room vibrates as “Lord I lift your name on high,” resounds from the funky lead singer, her silver ringed fingers stretched towards the ceiling. She weaves back and forth, her eyes clenched tight, the music pulsating from her shrieking lungs. As though they’ve all had a bit too much LSD and this petite Christian rocker is Charles Manson rallying his hippy troops; the patrons begin to weave glassy eyed along with her. I am brushed by forearms and shoulders on either side, more hands are outstretched towards the rafters above. I cannot help straining to hear the subliminal messages that must be drifting below the reverberating musical chords. She winds her song to a close, barely heard now due to those that have joined her, the crowd whose voice bellows in unison as their sins drift like clouds of smoke into the stifling air.

 We sit. My pants, more itchy than ever, leave a distinct feeling that the lower half of my body is burning in the eternal flames of damnation. The pastor, young trendy and careless floats onto the stage. His Birkenstocks slap the fake wood floor and a tear along his jeans reveals his left kneecap, tanned skin poking through the fabric. He smiles and shakes his head, sunlit blonde strands flipping over his face; he runs a single hand delightfully through the mane and clears his throat. The heat in the room must be rising, I can feel the slow spread of sweat beneath my arms, my silk blouse hugging the moist flesh. His PowerPoint presentation has begun and watchers drift to the edge of their seats riveted to his velvety mouth. I can hear him speak, but am thwarted by his talk of a new stereo system and adding energy drinks to the coffee buffet. Apparently, the church I attended as a child was a bit more old fashion. They generally stuck to the bible.

 He moves through his sermon with the ease of a politician. His excited voice rising and falling as he describe our abandonment of God in these days of sin. Now here I can relate. I mean sin sits in my back pocket like chewing gum. Every time I think I’ve gotten rid of it, I find it stuck to the bottom of my shoe. He’s pacing the stage now, his arms waving wildly, like a salesmen I saw once giving a presentation on better gas mileage in SUV’s. I wonder if, at any second, he’s going to hold up a copy the brochure, equipped with airbags and leather seats, then point us to the newly forming lines in the back of the room, where we can purchase it for the bargain price of $19.95. I want to be into it, hear God as he talks about modern day religion in the form of not cheating on taxes and contributing to your retirement fund, but I just can’t. I can’t turn off the immaculate stage set-up, the laminated pamphlets, the bikers helmet that they use as a collection box. I am a wolf in sheep’s pajamas, sitting in this pew in my Sunday best, while the real believers pray without the burden of disguise.

 I slip from my seat and shift at an achingly slow pace through the room. Knees turn sideways, breaths suck in, faux murmurs of politeness drift from the lips of inconvenienced patrons. Heads downcast in prayer glance up and watch my shameful escape. I consider stopping for a refill of the French roast, but cannot stand the lingering eyes on my back. In the lobby I break into a run, my high heels clacking along the shiny tiles. The doors lay before me and for a nauseating moment I imagine that they are locked, that I will skid to a stop, nearly crashing into their glass windows to elusive freedom. But they burst beneath my shoving arms, and I skid into the parking lot. I race to my car and dive inside, feeling ridiculous, but totally justified as though I have dodged some horrific beast snapping at my heels.

I am freelance writer from Lansing Michigan. That's a relatively new statement for me as I left my full time career earlier this year to pursue writing as a way of life rather than a hobby. Caught in the throes of long commutes and even longer days I finally woke up to the reality that becoming a successful writer hardly fits into a high stress career, so I took the plunge and have never been happier. I am currently making my way in the writing world with blogs, short stories, and occasional articles. I have recently finished my first novel and am in the process of searching for an agent. My meager pay is supplemented by my very supportive husband who is a banker and gives me rave (and totally biased) reviews of everything that I write, whether it be a short story or a note to pick up the dry cleaning.

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