I used to have roots in the pews, and eyes on the preacher. My voice knew how to get a rise out of others, even if I kept it pen to paper. If I was inherently bad, maybe I could use my innate storytelling skill to do good. You know, good for God.
I used to say “Amen” firmly and proudly with good sermons when I first became a faithful church member. I was soon pulled aside and asked to stop. “We are to be quiet”, the preacher’s wife gently reprimanded.
There was this talk of suffocating submission, because I am a woman.
I remember one reprimand at a youth conference. A youth conference is a big gathering of teenagers that are sleeping over in a huge church and being preached at three times a day. This specific gathering lasted a few days. After a sermon, we could participate in fun activities. We usually had to sign up for the activities we wanted, because there were so many teenagers and they wanted to keep it all split by gender. I needed to become a virtuous wife someday, but not right now I guess. I scanned the different lists of activities. Girls volleyball was the most popular. Ugh. I suck at volleyball. I also dread being around the girls that giggle about boys or gossip about how short a skirt is. I really didn’t think I’d enjoy my night much until the very last sign-up sheet. My eyes lit up. “BOYS PREACHING” it read. It was the least popular. I figured, because all of us were anywhere from 14-17 years old. I can’t expect every teenager to enjoy the same things I do. Regardless of its fairly empty list, I jotted my name down.
That was the day I learned that women cannot preach. I was pulled aside and spoken to in a low tone. This is how most touchy topics were taught to me. It was probably to prevent embarrassment for my youth group since I wasn’t raised as a Christian kid. I had a lot to learn, and I was usually left at the guidance of my church leaders.
Repeatedly I was shushed, told to cross my modestly-covered legs, and learn about other women of God in the bible. I was expected to become what God saw as good for me. I am a woman, after all. That means I could only be a virtuous wife with well-behaved Sunday school children that fall in line– just like I will learn to do.
I was enrolled in a speech and debate class in the public high school I attended. My church friends did not approve, but I reassured them that I could use it as a platform for God. Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter. I felt absolutely alive when I stood tall, shuffled notecards, and spoke with my soul. I used all of my speeches to advocate for God.
“Do good for God”, I thought every time I smoothed my skirt and prepared to walk to the pulpit for my turn.
My audience was composed of other students in that class. Part of the rubric was participation as an audience member. It is possible to receive a good grade by sharing a comment or critique with at least one speaker. As I delivered the closing remarks of my speech, I watched as multiple hands shot up. I beamed. “I’m doing good for God,” I believed, only until I called on the last student to share his comment.
“Have you considered becoming a pastor? You really have a skill for reaching your audience with the messages you share,” he exclaimed.
My smile quickly faded.
The verses that my mentors highlighted in my bible crossed my mind. The image of their faces displaying disappointment followed. I thought of an angry God. My face felt hot as I twiddled with my cross necklace.
“That’s nice of you, but I don’t believe women are called to be pastors.”
I replied swiftly, as I gathered my notes and headed to my seat almost in a hurry. I smiled at anyone who made eye contact, only so I could still be awarded an A for the confidence portion of the rubric.
It’s March 2020.
We’re in the midst of some kinda history. The coronavirus pandemic is bigger than what I originally believed. I’ve been laid off for a month due to mandated quarantine in Ohio. I hate losing the ability to work. That’s not sarcasm. I’m a dog groomer with fully booked days. Maybe losing the routine is what I hate, I don’t know. Work looks like Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 6:00pm. I need the money to keep my apartment, of course, but I do enjoy it. I love being busy. I love keeping my focus on giving dogs haircuts. It keeps me distracted, I guess.
I’ve discovered between my easy spaghetti dinners and sloppy-sandwich-making that even your loneliness can get fucking lonely. I’m not used to peace and calm. I’ve been around loud noise for as long as I can remember, and I know noise can do some good for the mind. It’s only been a few months since I’ve moved out of my childhood home. I have been trying to operate on some skewed idea of adulthood since. We’re four months in, and I haven’t gained more than a few pieces of cheap furniture and a chihuahua to call a roommate. Meet Pumpkin. I just rescued her. She’s old with bad teeth, but hey, who’s got it all together? Not me. I don’t know why I’ve felt so lost and out of touch lately. I haven’t gone to church in quite a while, even before all of this Covid stuff. I slowly stopped praying, and I’m not sure why. I don’t even feel like I can hold onto the belief anymore. It’s terrifying to even think about how God may not be out there. Yeah, scary. I don’t say that belief out loud yet. I still have no clue what is happening with my faith. It just quietly left out the back door without a goodbye.
It’s around noon on January 20th, 2021.
This election also belongs in U.S. history. Joe Biden was elected for the presidency. I’m over here trying to finish scrambling the eggs I’m making for breakfast (lunch, whatever) as I keep trying to glance at the T.V. screen. It’s the inauguration. I wish I was on time for live recordings of important things. I keep eyeing the events that unfold on the screen as I drop the spatula in the sink. I really am starting to grasp the character of Trump, our former president. It reminds me of the preachers I used to have if I really sit and think about it. I think harder about ideas now. People, too. Ah, that brings me to another historical event. We have elected our first woman vice president. It sent a chill down my spine when I first heard the results. I texted a few friends about it, but I’ve grown used to processing information alone. I have grown much more comfortable in my own presence. I’m at a bigger place in Indiana now. I have gained another roommate. Say hi to Sunny, the mutt. She’s cute though. She sprawls across my feet as I sit down on the couch to continue watching. I fork some eggs into my mouth and feel a huge grin begin. Kamala Harris is repeating the oath of office. I still laugh when I see men argue that women don’t belong in political office. I‘m not too familiar with anger yet, so a passive aggressive chuckle will have to do for now. Truth is, I’ve noticed Harris’ haters have brought more emotion out of me than I ever felt with those who discouraged me in the past.
It’s September 20th, 2022.
I was supposed to be a submissive woman, but I left what had become a position that I held no election for. I didn’t get a vote. I still hold the memory of the inauguration that I initiated. I’ve shed the shell of who I used to be in the church.
You see, the church said I needed to be submissive because it was God’s purpose for my life. But if God does not exist, which I now believe (and say out loud), the purpose cannot exist either. Every argument my preachers gave was backed with a biblical basis. I was a champion bible quizzer, yet I still raised an eyebrow at some of the sermons I heard and verses I read. Men in the church would tell girls like me that we needed to be led. “Men are made to be leaders. Pray for a man who will lead you someday.” A man that will speak where I am quiet, I assume.
But I’m here now, typing this first blog post. I left the noise. I had taken my notes and stepped down from the ugly, crafted position they put me in. I placed just enough rumble in my earthquake of a voice to say:
“Then the church does not get me.”
I am standing on my piece of the pulpit. I’m not asking any one of you to sit in a pew as you read. I’m only asking you to stand on your pulpit– free of shame and silence.
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