Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Southern Survival 101: Church

WOW. I did not think that post would have so much reaction. In fact, as I was driving home last night, I thought, "Uck. Such a lame-o post. Will have to be more interesting tomorrow." But my readers have surprised me, so I will continue with the series.

I am loving the comments, btw. I did indeed forget pimento cheese (WLF ate it like it was going out of style!) and strawberry shortcake (of course, MY mom makes the best version, and I will beat you silly if you disagree with me). Much thanks to Charming for educating me on how VASTLY different the Louisiana cuisine is. I thought we shared most of the same foods, but apparently I am way off. And now I want to eat my way through that state. There should be Cajun Food Bus Tours. I would totally go. Gumbo, spicy sauces, lots of shrimp and pralines? Holy cow. Sign me up.

Also, did anyone else grow up eating pickled watermelon rind? Jesusmaryandjoseph, y'all. Those things are fantastic. They are sweet and cinnamon-y. Yet they are pickle-y at the same time. I don't know if they're a Southern thing, but they are awesome. Cool texture, too. Very hard to find. They taste like bread n butter pickles.

Ok, enough about food! Today's topic: Faith in the South. And by that, I am referring to the two things Southerners pray for: Jesus' salvation and the infallibility of the football coach.

You think I am kidding. But just wait. Unless you are Southern, you have no idea how important these two things are to us. You will understand by the end of this post.

Let's start with church.

First off, unless you say otherwise, it is assumed you are Southern Baptist. If not, it's assumed you are Methodist. No? You must be Non-Denominational. If you are still shaking your head, they assume you're Lutheran or Presbyterian. Still shaking? You must be Episcopalian. If you are still saying no, you are a heathen.

Last I heard, there was a rumor that a synagogue exists somewhere in the metropolitan area. But that has yet to be confirmed. You do meet the occasional Catholic, but everyone assumes they "ain't from around here." The concepts of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, atheism or anything else don't compute in our brains. Period. At best, someone might say, "Those people don't believe in Jesus, do they?" and then proceed to shake their heads.

Down here, you go to church. Everyone goes to church. (Ok, not everyone. But most people. Especially if you are a native. Or if you are married, under the age of 10 or over the age of 60. So we are talking well over 60% of the population.) A lot of people (ie, Southern Baptists) go to church twice a week: on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. I don't know why it's Wednesdays, but there are people who can never do anything on Wednesday nights because they have church. I like to think they are extra-bad, and therefore, need more churchin' than the rest of us. But that's just a joke. I'm technically Episcopalian, so I'm not expected to go to church on Wednesdays. I could if I wanted to, but there wouldn't be many people there. (Actually, right now I would fall into the "heathen" category, as I haven't set foot in a church in about 7 months). Some people refuse to work on Sundays because they believe it's a day of rest. And the employers just say, "Ok." and have someone else (ie, a heathen) cover for them.

Before church starts on Sundays, all the kids go to Sunday School, which is where they learn about Bible stories, obviously. But that is where all the similarities to Catholicism end. Baptists completely veer off that path from this point forward. (Which is fine! I am not bashing SBs! To each their own. IMHO, we're all gonna be in heaven one day, anyway.) That is, unless you're in LA, where everyone is Catholic. (LA seems to be the exception to a lot of Southern culture, it seems....)

There's no catechism or learning about sacraments. They don't know what the hell that is down here. "Extreme Unction? Sue, isn't that what Aunt Thelma was diagnosed with the last time she went to the doctor?" they would say. You never confess anything to any preacher. I guess you just think about it, feel bad and pray silently for forgiveness. (This has been a big adjustment for me, ever since I turned Protestant. Like, how do you know it's forgiven unless you've said 8 Hail Marys??) There are no rosaries, relics or mantillas. No one talks about what St. Michael did, because saints are really not emphasized in the SB church. I don't even know if they believe in saints, come to think of it.

Ever tried to explain what a saint is to someone? "Um. It's kind of like a friend...who we think is in heaven..that you can pray to....for help with specific if you lost your dog, or whatever..." and the other person is like, "You mean like Jesus? Why would you need to pray to anyone other than Jesus? That sounds wrong. Are you a heathen?" and then it all goes downhill from there.

And it doesn't matter why Mary was a virgin when she had Jesus, you just need to know that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and unless you believe that, your soul will be damned to hell, which is full of fire and brimstone, and you will be tormented for all time by Satan himself. (Can you tell I was raised Catholic?)

Anyway, as you age, your Sunday School becomes Bible Study, where you begin to memorize Bible verses. This is because many Southerners (especially Southern Baptists) take a literal approach to the Bible. It's not my thing, but hey. To each their own. I don't think it's a bad thing to know some Bible quotes. They probably come in handy in those last few seconds before you do something stupid.

On Sundays, you are not done with church until at least noon. This is because church is the main social networking institution down here. It's where you make contacts, both social and business-related. So after church is over, you go to the church hall and eat and drink coffee and chat. Make connections. Which kind of doesn't make sense, if you think about it, because as we all know, everyone in the South knows everyone else. So I guess it's more of a social thing, now that I think about it. It's just that the lines between "making a social connection" and conducting a business meeting" are blurry down here. So anyway, you eat some more. Then you go to lunch with your church friends....where you eat some more.

There's a lot of "office politics" involved in the Southern church. I have heard of preachers (yes, they are called preachers -- we don't have "priests" or anything like that) being fired simply because the congregation didn't like his sermons. And although the preacher is the one at the front of the room and the one in the pulpit, it's actually the Church Ladies who are running the show. Don't mess with the Church Ladies. Trust me on this one.

And you know how Catholic Mass (another term you'll never hear down here -- "mass") has a set order of little ceremonies? Yeah. SBs don't do that. They mainly go to church to sing songs, pass the collection plate and listen to the preacher preach stuff. Then you get some wine and bread and that's it. No one here has heard of "Benediction" or saints or anything like that. There's no incense or bell-ringing. No statues in the church, no Jesus on the cross (did you know that only Catholics put the figure of Jesus on the cross? Other Christians just have the naked cross.) Southern Baptists have baptisms, though. They just get more into it: your ass is dunked, down in the river. So remember to wear your bathing suit.

Pretty much every church down here has a choir. We are big on musical accompaniment during our services. A LOT of R&B singers got their start singing in their church choirs. It's a big deal down here. They put on quite a show. You'll see matching choir robes and lots of swaying and hand-raising. A lot of people down here don't even open their hymnals, because they know all the words to all the old hymns. (Wait, is this a Southern thing? I always assumed it was. I mean, I'm pretty sure they don't sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" up in the Yankee churches....)

Now, I'm not going to bash Southern Baptists (SBs) on here, because a lot of them do lead good, Christian lives and I have lots of Southern Baptist friends whose moral fiber I admire greatly. However. They can get kinda weird in some ways. And not just because they honestly believe Eve was literally formed from Adam's rib. The Baptists are usually behind any laws in the South against the following: gambling, drinking, tobacco usage, drugs, homosexuality, sodomy, oral sex, sex outside of marriage, living in sin, swearing, dancing, strip clubs, movies, card playing, fortune telling, "immodest" dress and things that are fun in general. Ok, I'm kidding about the fun part. But let me just put it to you this way: my babysitter's dad was a SB preacher, and he didn't allow his daughters to wear pants. So, you see what I'm saying? They get kinda weird.

We have lots of blue laws here. (I've heard they exist up north, too, but we are more known for them.) You will find dry counties down here. As in, you have to drive to another county if you want beer. You can buy it in the next county and bring it back home, you just can't purchase it in the dry county. Um, what? Yeah. I don't get it either. There's a lot of dry counties in TN and KY. That means the county is controlled by very strict SBs, because they do not condone alcohol consumption of any kind. These are the type of SBs who drink grape juice at church instead of wine. I swear to God I am not making this up. Lots of places down here have laws about when and where alcohol can be sold.

For example, here in Columbia, if you live on the west side of town, like I do, you cannot buy anything other than food and medicine/toiletries on Sunday mornings. Shoes? Nope. Cucumber? Yes. DVDs? No. Shampoo? Yes. I know, makes no friggin sense. But you see, people are supposed to be at church on Sunday mornings. And if heathens don't want to go, then goshdarnit, it's going to be a royal pain in the ass for them to do anything productive in the meantime. Here's irony for you: you cannot buy a Bible on Sunday mornings. Yeah. Chew on that for a minute. After 1:30pm on Sundays, you can buy whatever you want. Until 6pm, when everything closes. (This is why I spend the vast majority of Sundays watching movies, taking walks or cooking. It's because nothing's friggin open.)

Sundays are for church and family. Sounds corny, I know. But Sunday, after church and lunch, everyone typically goes to their mother/grandmother's house, where they spend the rest of the day. What they do, I don't know. Talk. Eat. Watch NASCAR, probably. My family is spread out all over God's creation, so I cannot really relate to this aspect of Southern culture. I am commenting as an observer on this one. You may have noticed that Chik-fil-a is never open on Sundays. This is because the founder is a SB, and he thinks Sundays are family time. Irritating for customers, yet admirable at the same time.

Irritating, yet admirable. Yes, that is a good way to explain SBs in general....

There are a few more things you should know. Billy Graham is a major celebrity down here. Lots of highways are named after him. Rick Warren comes in at a close second. Oh, and there are some teens who only listen to Christian rock bands. They even go to the concerts. I didn't even know Christian rock bands went on tour. Wow. Also, especially in small towns, you will find that the lines between church and state are blurry. Schools put up Christmas trees and sing religious Christmas carols. It's not unusual to see the Ten Commandments posted on public buildings. Or in schools. High schoolers can take Bible classes just like they can take geometry or biology. At first I thought maybe someone should say something. As someone educated in the midwest, where stuff like this would NEVER fly, it still freaks me out a little. But then one day, I realized: Everyone here is a Christian. There literally isn't anyone who has a problem with it. Which is why no one's ever said anything before.

Um. I think I have sufficiently covered church. Next up: Our other religion. Football.


charming, but single said...

Just to clarify, VB, everyone in Louisiana is not Catholic. Everyone in SOUTHEAST Louisiana (which is where most of the people live) is Catholic. And probably not EVERYONE. Like, I live down the street from a huge Baptist church that's next door from one of the city's two Synagogues. In North Louisiana they look at us like we are heathens. They have dry parishes up there ... we just giggle and say, "Pass the booze." (Although we do have blue laws that stop you from buying wine and liquor on Sundays. Beer is okay.)

Also, we have parishes and not counties. Because we were French. Duh. ;)

But, yes, lots of Catholics. This is why schools here have differnt Spring Breaks -- ours are based around Holy Week and Easter Sunday. (And we get time off for Mardi Gras too, which pushes back Spring Break.) Also, Lent is huge here -- every church sells seafood dinners on Fridays as a fundraiser because Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays. Which is silly to me because we have fantastic seafood, so it really isn't that much of a sacrifice to replace your turkey sandwich with a fried shrimp poboy. (My grandparents usually don't eat meat on ANY Friday during the year, but they are old school Catholics.)

Did I forget anything? Um ... yeah, we have Lenten menus here. Like at the big chain fast food restaurants too. I swear, McDonald's sells the Filet O Fish sandwich like CRAZY during Lent.

cmk said...

I really had to chuckle when I tried to imagine explaining MY church to someone. We are a cross between Lutheran, Catholic, Southern Baptist, and heaven only knows. But then, it was those darned Finns that brought the religion here, so what more can I say? :) ALL of the sects of every denomination have their strangenesses--but all in all, we are just ALL God's children, aren't we?

RWA said...

You are on a roll with this. Here in Alabama, Southern Baptists and Methodists are quite common - and you described the various groups very well.

I do believe we actually have a synagogue (maybe two) in town.

When Darkness Falls... said...

Wow! As a yankee (I live in Ohio) I can't believe you have such a limited amount of faiths in the south. If you can dream it, we have a church or place of worship for it here! And yes, I must inform you, we do sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" here also! lol

As for the food, way, way different than anything I am used to. Sounds delicious though! If you get too bad of a craving, I would be happy to ship you some of our Cincinnati chili!

lenfercestlesautres said...

Holy shit, now I'm even more scared of religion than I was before! ;)

coffeesnob said...

nice. inquisitive, amused, expository. best of all: not condescending.

MC said...

You know the difference between a Methodist and a Baptist? The Methodist will speak to you at the liquor store.
That's one of my Dad's favorite jokes. (We're a little different, my mother was raised Baptist, my father Catholic, my brother and I call ourselves Methopiscapists.)

Matilda Jane said...

The first time we had a large gathering at work and were asked to bow our head in prayer to Jesus before eating.... AT WORK... I was SHOCKED! That never happened in NY.
I just observe and keep my mouth shut. If anyone down here knew that I don't believe in Jesus, I might be tarred and feathered.

Meghan (The Declaration of MY Independence) said...

Wow! Holy crap! Now I know why they call it the bible belt. The more I read your posts, the more I realize that I probably wouldn't last 2 seconds in the south. Here are the reasons: 1.) I swear I've been on a constant diet since I was about 12. That whole food thing doesn't go over well with me. Especially the part about REAL mayo! Eeek! haha. 2.)I'm not a big fan or organized religion. I have been born and raised Catholic (catholic school for 13 years!), but I think I come more from the church of "Be Good and You'll Go To Heaven". Mom disagrees. She always tells me I'm going to hell. I tell her I'll be in good company ;)I took a class at my heathen public college that was a study of the New Testement. It kind of shot out alot of the Catholic beliefs I had. Maybe thats why I'm at the point I am now with religion.

I love how you say people hang out after church. That would NEVER happen up here in Yankee land (but I'm not sure if thats how it is with Jewish people). People rush to get out of church. My friend actually got hit by a car coming out of church. People try to get out of there THAT fast. Also, its a common practice to leave after communion before the final blessing...ooops. Sometimes the priest tries to stop it by saying something at the begining of mass, but us Catholic peeps dont care, we leave anyways.

What do we do after church? We go to the grocery story, silly!

I never really got the SB religion. It just seems like they dont like anything fun. But then again, I really dont know that much about it either. I worked with a girl who used to be SB, but turned Greek Orthodox when she got married. Her parents were EXTREMELY unhappy that there was alchool served at their wedding reception.

Catholic seems like the dominant faith in my city. Fish Fries are EVERYWHERE during Lent. And I must admit, that even I partake in the fried fish, even though I'm not a fan of fish in general. The Jewish people live usually in Squirrel Hill and White Oak (suburbs of Pittsburgh). Nothing is usually open there on Saturdays in those places.

In Pennsylvania, alchool sales are controled by the LCB (liquor control board. when we were in college we would sing "well the LCB won't let me be" you know, like the Eminem song). You cannot buy six packs in beer distributors, only in bars, and theres a limit of 4 placed on it. They finally started having liquor stores open on Sunday, but only some of them are. Even then they close at 5. And you def. wont find any kind of alchool in grocery stores or gas stations.

Our stores here are usually open from 12-6. Except grocerey stores and places like Target. That sweet piece of Target treasure is usually open 10-8. I heart that store.

Good post again! I loved it!

* meish * said...

WOW. as a "heathen" in Los Angeles, this is an aspect of American culture i never knew much about. while the scientologists and the jewish seem to rule in my neck of the woods, there is a niche for every imaginable world faith. i like it like that. and the fact that if i want, i can buy tequila at 10 am on a sunday. or go clubbing after 11 pm on a sunday night.

kimmykins13 said...

There are different degrees of Southern Baptists. Some of the Southern Baptist churches are a little more radical than others. I was raised SB. My church was a little more subdued. Basically service started at 11am - you socialized on the way in, sang a couple of hymns, said a couple of prayers, doxology and offering, sermon, sing a few more hymns, say a closing prayer and out the door by noon. We had big church socials and picnics too for certain events and times of the year. And yes, I did the whole Sunday School thing growing up. We didn't go to Church on Wednesday nights but they did have a service. Tuesday nights were choir practice.

Around here you can't buy alcohol until after noon. Stores open at noon and stay open til 6pm or are not open at all - but the restaurants are open at their regular times. They wouldn't miss out on those after church lunch crowds.

Anonymous said...

The First Baptist Church is always the largest building in any small southern town. You forgot to mention the covered dish (pot luck for you northerners) lunch following church where all the members bring food. It is typical to find for or five different kinds of fried chicken. Some nice old lady usually serves up a great green bean casserole with those little potatoes in them. And don't get me started about the deviled eggs. Good stuff. Also, we typically refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. That has to be mentioned in any article about the South.

charming, but single said...

Yeah, I totally take issue with the "War of Northern Aggression" being what we call the Civil War. There are some people who still wave Confederate flags and get all crazy about the Civil War, but I like to think that these attitudes are changing over time and that these people are quickly becoming the minority. But maybe this is my Pollyanna view of things and the fact that I'm not from Total Podunk.

tallglassofvino said...

oooh... deviled eggs! yuuuuummmmm (and now I'm going to make me some, even if it IS 9:30 on a school night!)

SB ways are BIG in Texas, where I went to college. I lost, I mean, have... a friend... who's big into that scene. I attended one of their services once, with her family, and it was literally TELEVISED through a GIGANTIC STADIUM-LIKE hall. I felt like I should have been eating a stadium dog through it.

Don't get me wrong, I was a member of a Presbyterian church at the time (until I attended their About The Faith classes, and realized that I didn't endorse the concept that there exists a Book where everyone who'll be saved is already written, and if you're in there, you can only screw it up, whereas if you lived a perfect life and were NOT in the book, you didn't stand a chance. Yeah.)

And now I'm in SF, where Hipster is the New Religion, and I'm a long-since-fallen heathen of THAT religion, too.

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