BELOW THE BIBLE BELT
Although I wasn’t brought up with the bible, and have never seen myself as a man of the church, I would like to think that I have always had faith. Faith in the natural order of the world, even though it likes to surprise us every so often. Faith in the fierce but instinctive nature of the animal kingdom. Faith in the people i love, and in their reciprocal faith in me.
The question of how God fits into all this is one i neither know the answer to, nor completely understand the significance of. Maybe he lives in each and every one of us, or maybe he only visits us in revelations at important intervals in our lives, like a guiding light. Does he really possess pre-mapped out blueprints of our everyday lives? If this is the case, then why have we historically encouraged one another to confess our weekly sins in his presence? Is it a masochistic thing; like going to the gym?
Quite possibly asking himself the very same question, Henry (my father and the band’s spiritual leader) burst into the kitchen last sunday morning proclaiming that the local methodist church was only 7 miles away and that the car would be leaving in 5 minutes if anyone was interested in attending the eleven o clock service. Back home, the only thing i get up on a sunday for is the double ‘ Come dine with me’ omnibus, so how he did it is way beyond me. Be he did – and it really was quite a sight. Three late-arriving, hungover agnostics and two Hindu kids in pyjama bottoms sat in a line along the back pew, incompetently humming along to “Come, sinners, to the gospel feast” like something out of a lost Louis Theroux documentary.
The masochistic part of me wants to say it felt a little like parachuting into occupied france, but the truth is that we were welcomed into Jesus’ house with open arms – the kind belonging to irrepressibly friendly people with big smiles. Huge, gleaming toothy smiles. Where were the black-clad congregation, splashing the sinful with holy water, all whilst speaking in tongues? Where were the old geriatrics in their mothball-scented sweaters, eyeballing us for not being able to find the right page in the hymn book, and for looking like we didn’t want to be there? These people looked like us, only more attractive, more attentive and with better skin.
I have often visited cathedrals and mosques on my travels through Europe but this was different. Wildly different. Back home churches are vast, chilly places with huge brass bells and even huger, comedic wooden doors. Wooden doors that have provided refuge for the faithful over many hundreds of years. Refuge from the wars, persecution and tyrannies of the outside world. This church felt like being at a hip, new age media conference complete with power point presentation, hearing loops and God forbid, Jesus jokes.
But the best bit was the visiting preacher – a charismatic and assertive man of the cloth (or shiny suit) with diamond earrings and full-on Jersey Shore styled ‘blowout’ hair. I’ll tell you what, I never thought i’d be taking life lessons from a Guido but this guy was the real deal.
I could see how visiting a church for the first time could feel a lot like attending an overdue check up at the local hospital. You spend ages debating whether to go or not, and leave with a suspicion you have things wrong with you that you never even knew the name of. But unfortunately at church it is a lot easier to walk in than it is to walk out. There was a touching moment just before got up to leave when the pastor asked everyone in the room to hold hands with the stranger beside them and wish good luck to the newly baptised youngsters in the front row. And something about that gesture really got though to me. But before i had the chance to savour it, we were being cornered by god’s scouts on all four sides, and I was biting my tongue. At the thought of being sussed out. At the thought of seeming like an intruder. At the thought of being galvanised into joining an institution i neither understood nor wholly believed in. Or maybe I was biting my tongue because the little old lady in front of me whole heartedly believed that it was her job to stuff my pockets full of conscription and donation forms.
But i came here because I wanted to, not because a little old lady tried to ram the word of jesus down my throat. And thats the way it should be, God bless her cotton socks.