Inactive Faith, Parts I & II
When I was a child my family attended my paternal grandparents' small-town strict Baptist church on Sundays. I didn't know it was strict then. I only knew that the girls wore dresses and my mom put me in dresses anyway, so it wasn't weird. I only knew I needed to be quiet and memorize bible verses and in those days I was good at being quiet and good at memorizing and good at everything because I was little and didn't know any better.
Every week in Sunday school, the quietest, most well-behaved student, the one who had memorized the most bible verses and stayed the quietest during gospel and prayer, would get called up to the front of the church and given a prize. It was usually candy, a full-sized candy bar, sometimes a really good one or sometimes a pack of gum. From a very young age, two of my favorite things were attention and candy. I didn't know how much I liked being praised yet, because I hadn't experienced the opposite. And so every week I would sit in the front of the room, a makeshift classroom that also doubled as a gym and reception hall. And I'd stare at the teachers in perfect silence, feigned attentiveness. I was so impressed with myself for how easily I could seem enthralled when really I was thinking about Hello Kitty or imagining elaborate scenarios or just thinking nothing at all, just zoning out into the land of meditative waking sleep. I memorized bible verses with ease. They have a certain rhythm, you know, not that different than the nursery rhymes I'd already been memorizing for years or the songs I'd memorized from the radio. Brains are so malleable when they are young. They absorb everything. Smart kids can harness that and make you think they are really learning.
And so nearly every week I would be called to the front of the class as the shining example of a good Christian learner. I'd walk up in my frilly dress and shiny shoes, put a few coins from my tiny handbag into the offering plate, and collect my reward. I'd pretend to be surprised, like I didn't know my name was always coming, and humble, like I didn't have one over on the entire operation. I was probably committing several sins. Oh, but I'd get my comeuppance.
One spring the church planned a celebration of sorts. I don't remember exactly what, a carnival or something. Maybe there was food. What I do remember is our teachers stressing that it was a big deal and the stakes were raised, and what I really remember is them promising celebrities in attendance. The governor at that time, a couple Christian singers I had never heard of, and, most importantly, Isaiah Thomas. Maybe you weren't a child in Michigan in the late 80s or you don't follow sports but Isaiah Thomas was important. He was the starting point guard for the Detroit Pistons, aka the Bad Boys, the anchor of the team. And yes, though I wore frilly dresses and fantasized about Hello Kitty I also loved basketball and no team was more exciting than the Pistons and they were our team, they were MY team. And now Isaiah Thomas was going to see me in my prime, in my glory, top of my Sunday School class, and, what? Ask me to be the ball girl for the Pistons? Ask me to marry him? Give me his championship ring? The endless possibilities.
I did everything they told me to do. And then of course Isaiah Thomas was not at the picnic or carnival or whatever it was. Poorly (possibly counterfeit) autographed 8x10 black and white portraits of him were at the event. Why would the biggest sports star on the planet come to a small-town Baptist church to watch oddly dressed children recite bible verses? I was duped. The trickster had been tricked. And I never won a candy bar again.
The months leading up to the 2016 presidential election were a shitshow. And that's putting in mildly. There were hacks and scandals and vulgarity and all sorts of things I hadn't seen in the previous elections when I voted for that handsome beacon of change, Barack Obama. And yes, I loved Bernie like everyone else, but when push came to shove and Hillary Clinton was our nominee I was happy to pull the proverbial lever.
And then there was Donald Trump. The sheister, the con-man, the reality star. Who thought he'd make it out of the first round? Who thought he'd clear the primaries? Who thought, well, you know what happens next. What a nightmare of sexism and xenophobia and all the worst things in one orange package with oddly shaped hair and ill-fitting suits. But you gotta keep the faith that the good will win over whatever he is and so I kept it.
I kept it as the shouts of BENGHAZI grew louder and the see of red caps grew deeper and the only thing evil needs is for good folks to stand by and do nothing. But someone was doing something, surely. And so I toed the line.
November 4th, 2016, I voted for my candidate. I did everything they told me to do. Pulled the proverbial lever, changed my Facebook profile pic, shouted “I'm with her” into the echo chamber. I teared up leaving the polling place because I'd done it. I'd tricked the trickster and we were about the have the first female president and that other guy's run would go down in history as, “oh, man, remember that? Wasn't that weird.”
“I'm losing my faith in humanity” a friend said as we watched poll numbers trickle in.
“It'll all work out,” I said, “she'll win, she has to win.”
And of course she didn't win. I memorized the statistics and talking points and sat quietly watching speeches and cheered and spoke out when I was supposed to, but of course she didn't win. The world didn't change while I watched from the couch. Or it did, but not in the way I had hoped.
Christi Griffis is a writer and bonne vivante in Michigan's Great Lakes Bay Region's café society. Her twitter handle is @christig .
Graphics from 1937 Kipikawi (yearbook), Washington Park High School, Racine WI.