Thursday, June 4, 2015

Mazel Tov Cocktail: Evangelical Traumatic Flashback Corner

In which the Romines' sisters reminisce about the weird, complicated relationship evangelicals have with alcohol.

Angie's Story:
25 year-old, geriatric bride

For some strange reason, we had a lot of staged weddings at my Baptist K-12 school. Perhaps to prepare us to marry before we graduated college, for this is pleasing to the Lord. I remember being in history class and feeding my fake husband grapes to demonstrate how some ancient cultures used to subjugate women. (Because if there’s one thing junior high girls don’t understand these days, it’s how good they have it).

My most memorable fake wedding was the recreation of The Wedding of Cana in 7th grade Bible class with Mrs. P, who was also the choir director. She was my least favorite teacher in the history of time because she gave me my one and only detention for losing my pencil. (Thank God she was there to keep me on the straight-and-narrow). Also, she reveled in human misery, much like an evangelical Death Eater.

The Wedding of Cana was the site of Jesus’ first miracle—the turning of water into wine—and Mrs. P was going to take us on a journey back to the 1st century, when kids didn’t talk back or push dress code boundaries. Unfortunately, she had to conquer some cognitive dissonance to get there. She believed (like many Evangelicals) that the Bible—specifically the New Testament—should be taken literally, in its entirety. Thus, when John in his gospel says that Jesus took water drawn from a well and turned it into wine, then that is exactly what happened. However, Mrs. P (like many Evangelicals) did not “believe in” drinking.  To her, to my Baptist school, to my Wesleyan college, drinking was not something good Christians did. 

Unsafe and culturally inappropriate for Christian 7th graders
And yet here she found herself, standing in her calf-length plaid skirt, at the front of a room full of impressionable preteens waiting to hoist their classmates into the air on chairs (because that’s what you do at a Jewish wedding) and drink “wine.” Parent volunteers passed around grape juice in Dixie cups. First straight juice, then the refills became more and more diluted to simulate how party hosts in the Days of Yore used to water down their wine like a bunch of cheap jerks. By the time we got to seven parts water, one part juice, I was retching in my mouth. As we drank the juice, Mrs. P explained to us that this grape juice was more like the wine of Biblical times than the wine we’d see at the grocery store in the sinful aisle. She said in her slightly froggy voice, “Class, remember, the wine Jesus made at Cana was actually .05% alcohol. You couldn’t really get drunk off of it.” 

It's ICED COFFEE, Teri, gawd.
And just like that, it was all okay. Mrs. P could go on believing that the Bible said Jesus conjured wine and also that you weren’t supposed to drink wine because that’s what made her comfortable. I was taught some truly batshit things growing up, and Mrs. P’s erasure of Jesus’ alcohol consumption only scratches the surface. But at the same time, I can see how my teachers got there. I can see why they had to reframe logic to make all the pieces—Christian tradition, the tenets of Christianity, conservative culture—fit together even in direct contradiction. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing not to drink. Just because Jesus got his drank on doesn’t mean modern day Christians have to. Maybe you never really wanted to. Maybe alcoholism runs in your family. Maybe you don’t want to spend the money or the calories. All are legitimate, fine reasons. What are not-so-good reasons? “Because I’m a Christian,” or “Because the Bible says not to.” If you say you don’t drink because you are a Christian, you are implying that Christians who drink either aren’t really Christians or aren’t properly adhering to the tenets of their faith. If you say because the Bible says not to, well, you haven’t read the text very closely. 

I rebuke thee, Satan!
But what makes my eyes roll so hard that I worry about damaging my own brain is Christians like Teri (who is a pretty cool lady other than The Super-Judgment Par-tay she throws every damn day of her life). Love Interest Scott takes her out on his roommate’s stolen boat, The Moonfish (to be clear, the Bible does say you shouldn’t steal. Or traffic drugs inside of tamales) and offers her a raspberry wine cooler—the most innocent of drinks. Scott would have to shotgun a 24 pack of them to get a buzz, and it would most likely just be a sugar high. And yet, Teri all but launches herself off the boat to avoid the demon drink. Later after they hike to the center of a crater in the Hawaiian rainforest, Scott again, has the audacity to drink. One. Friggin’. Beer. [Elise: And I bet it was light beer] The judgment of Teri (and, by extension, RGJ) hangs thick in the air like one of my dog’s farts. The audience is supposed to be right alongside Teri, raising our eyebrows, wrinkling our noses, and crossing our arms. Instead, I’m mad at Teri. Don’t be that Christian, Teri. You can choose not to drink while not being The Rudeness to other people who might make a different, Biblically-sanctioned choice.

Christianity is a 2,000 year-old religion. The teachings of Jesus no longer stand alone but have been braided together with tradition and culture. A fabric has been woven using select passages of Scripture, traditions often grounded in patriarchy, and the Midwestern concept of goodness. Some people find it very, very difficult, maybe even impossible to unbraid the threads to discover what are the bedrock principles of their faith and what is just manmade scaffolding. In the end, as Christians we are told to love others without reservation or hesitation, and we are flat out commanded not to judge others. So Teri’s of the world, chill. Drink a Mai Tai or don’t. Nobody cares. Either way, wipe that smug, Judge-y McJudgerson look off your face before I do it for you. Ugh, I think I’m durnk. DON’T YOU JUDGE ME, TERI!!!! *tips over*
What.

Elise’s Story: 

Since Angie and I attended the same evangelical school grades K-12, I too, took part in a wedding reenactment three years after her story. But my story is one of even more darkness and pain. I was not playing the part of the bride. No...I was not even a wedding guest like Angie. I was a [redacted] SERVANT.
Finally the bride, laughing at my towel
draped bridesmaid/servants.

Now, Mrs. P had vast amounts of knowledge about ancient Middle Eastern culture, gleaned from her rigorous studies as a Choir major at Bible-Town University. She used her expertise to enforce an (I’m sure) entirely accurate, rigid caste system in which servants (me) had to cover their heads and were not allowed to make eye contact with wedding guests. Our “wedding guest” classmates were also encouraged to order around the “servants.” Again, this was definitely for historical realism and not because Mrs. P was a bitter hag of a woman who enjoyed humiliating middle schoolers. For me, once I got over the disappointment of not being “the bride,” I actually found a lot to love about my role as a “servant.” For one thing, I got to wear a giant t-shirt as a tunic (which completely hid my body, snap!) AND I got to cover my head with a towel. For a thirteen-year-old girl who had yet to “grow into her hair,” substituting my actual hair for a maroon bath towel from JC Penny’s felt like a significant improvement.
Dramatic reenactment of my hair
in middle school.

So anyway, I went to the wedding feeling pretty confident about my look, despite an unnamed family member calling the whole event “weird” and “offensive to Jewish culture.” Once I was at the wedding, I quickly realized that if I was a servant, not only was I excused from making eye contact, I literally didn’t have to speak to anyone which was, like, my lifelong dream. Looking back though, I feel pretty sorry for a kid who was so insecure, she could only relax when her social role was clearly defined, no matter how powerless and invisible she was made to feel. While there are so many things I appreciate about the culture I was raised in, remembering that feeling is not a fond memory. It brings back the memory of the weight of the enormous expectation to be right with God at all times, and how awful it felt to always be reminded that I was falling short. I remember being told about my role as a woman and thinking it was so small and so hard at the same time.  When I read Whispers, I think about how that kind of pressure could make anyone freak out when trying to decide if they should drink a wine cooler or not. Later, Ken Burns would tell me in a soothing drone that Mrs. P's views on alcohol came from the influence of the temperance movement on American Protestantism. The women who fought for Prohibition were in a way fighting for women's rights, since at the time if your husband got drunk, beat you and spent all your money, you couldn't do jack. I think that's what Ken said anyway, I fell asleep about 60 minutes into the documentary. Growing up though, we had none of that context. Cultural values were mixed with a rigid view of the Bible to create an environment where drinking wasn't allowed and girls couldn't play the drums (Mrs. P said drums were too heavy for girls to carry). Still, all in all I ended up having a pretty nice time at the wedding, standing in the corner with my tray of Dixie cups, adjusting my head towel, glaring at the bride, and starting to wonder if it was fair that I wasn't allowed to drink any grape juice.
WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS???!!!

3 comments:

  1. Well, I can't decide what was my favorite part -- "The Super-Judgment Par-tay she throws every damn day of her life" or the picture of your sister with her fake hair.

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    1. And the LORD spake, "You may have multiple favorites, for you are Paulita, American Queen of France." If Elise had procured a real photo of her hair, in all its mushroom glory, that definitely would've stolen the show.

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  2. I got stuck as a servant too. Similar to "slave day" as a fifth grader when a sixth grader took my lunch as Miss T sat on the elementary school stage in her blue plastic chair holding a mic stand like a scepter. And told me "that's how slavery works. You don't eat."

    That school.

    The wedding guests were always the popular kids. The servants were the little weirdos, as if we weren't having the worst time already.

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