Mona and I went to see a David Phelps concert at a nearby church last week. It didn’t go well.
I’m not Christian, but I was raised Catholic so I know all the stories. I enjoy devotional music of all faiths, and like David Phelps in particular. I have a few of his albums.
But from the moment I walked in, I felt a very bad vibe. I stood out, and not in a good way. I have long hair and a long beard, and my t-shirt had a picture of Pete Seeger on it. I found myself surrounded by clean-shaven men with very short hair, polo shirts tucked into their belted waistbands. I was the only one wearing sneakers.
A lady sat down next to us, smiled, and said, “We’re a very inclusive church here. We even have some Negroes and Chinese!” She considered this for a second. “They might not be Chinese. I don’t know what they are.”
If I could digress for just a second here: Madalyn Murray O’Hair didn’t set out to file a lawsuit ending mandatory prayer in public schools. Before taking such a drastic step she had gone to the school and explained that, as an atheist, she simply wanted her own child to be excused. The school agreed that he wouldn’t have to pray, but insisted that he would still have to stand, bow his head, clasp his hands, and move his lips as if he were praying. They considered this a reasonable compromise. (She disagreed.)
And that’s pretty much the East Texas definition of inclusiveness: we’ll allow you to exist, all we ask in return is that you believe the things we believe, do the things we do, say the things we say, and look the way we look. If you can’t do that, well, it’s a free country– and by that we mean you’re free to go, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
I could see the sideways glances direct my way, and I wasn’t happy about being the local sideshow freak, but thought that once the lights went out and the show started, we’d be fine.
Unfortunately, the show stunk. You would never believe these were professional musicians. They seemed intimidated and confused by the instruments in their hands. The mix was all wrong– every time the bass player plucked a note, the lead singer was completely drowned out.
We gave it a few songs, hoping the engineer would notice and fix it, but he didn’t.
So, we called it a night and snuck out early. The ushers glared at us. One literally shook his finger at me.
I briefly considered giving him a finger of my own, but didn’t.
I was in a church, after all.