dear moth's powder,
has your mother ever asked you something like "did you go to the store?" and you replied "i went to a store"? or, then again, maybe it was just my mother. one day, she sat in the living room when i was about seventeen years old, me having just returned from a trip to the mall with my friend Derrick and i totally forgot that she gave me a couple of dollars - just a couple - to get her a pair of Berkshire stockings in coffee taupe for sunday service - she had to preach the next day and the ones she had all had runs in them. of course, i knew the type she wanted because i always went with her to the various stores she'd buy them from the time when i was very little. still, i was always a bit confused by the size charts, but that's of no real concern. what happened is that she told me to go to Macy's - the store, the one i knew she liked and where they were cheapest - to get a pair for her because she knew i was going to the mall and why make a separate trip herself when she really wanted to sit in the house with her bathrobe on, sip tea with a bit of milk and meditate (watch QVC) on what she'd preach about the next day. well. i forgot.
Derrick and i had become somewhat of an item even though there actually was no language to describe what we were, what we ever did or what we meant to each other. we would sit in his bedroom - my parents were saved, sanctified and filled with the holy ghost, which meant i was scared as hell to ever have a boy over the house, especially after that last time which was the first and last time - and lay on his bed, sorta next to each other, knees slightly touching, arms right next to each other but bent at the elbow - just so our elbows would just meet - but so that our hands would just miss each other, the hairs on the backs of our hands reaching out toward each other, a bit of charged electricity and there was this one time when he pretended to fall asleep and so i pretended as well and so instead of staring up at the ceiling - we would never look at each other - i put my head down on the left ear and put my face really close to his shoulder and sniffed that he was wearing cologne that i loved and sweat formed at our brows because of the intensity of the almost physical connection we had. this and one time happened each time we spent time together but no time did we ever take our time to do what we wanted to do.
well. i forgot my mother's stockings at the store and only remembered when i came walking in the house - i almost said sashaying but i didn't start that until i was comfortably out of the house and in college and felt that my hips could drop just a wee bit and still be thought as masculine. but i came walking in the house with a bag from some new clothing store that was pretty popular when i was seventeen years old but nothing for her. and so her question: "did you go to the store for me?" and so my response: "i went to a store. sorry."
what intrigues me about that exchange now is the wide expanse instantiated between the and a. of course, they're articles, words that must attach to other words for their meaning, for their context. but the descent from the to a in the conversation with my mother had all sorts of emotion, logic and ideology in it. you see, i didn't think she should be preaching at the church - not because she wasn't fiery - but because the congregation didn't "accept" "women preachers," and so she would have to "speak" from the floor, cover her head with a doily, wear white and those - what i thought and maybe still think are - ugly coffee taupe stockings. she had to look holy and sanctified, had to act it, had to breathe it and to no avail. she still was not "allowed" to preach in the pulpit even though she made much more sense than any of the men who preached. my father agreed with this sentiment and was bordering on the edge of leaving and joining another congregation but my mother wouldn't have it. she thought that that was her vineyard in which to tarry, so she lingered and waited and hoped and prayed that one day they would see that it was not her gender that got her in trouble or her body that mattered but the "spirit of god" that was in her that was of most import.
so i didn't just say "i went to a store" but i infused the statement with my judgment against the church for their inability to think she worthy of the cloth, of the pulpit. she attended some neighborhood bible school and used the knowledge they could give her along with her city library card to challenge herself and study. of course, i thought this school non-collegiate and, thus, not really that rigorous. maybe i was a bit judgmental. but i wanted to go to harvard and the school of urban ministry just didn't ring well with me, likely because it was a rhetorical tell-all of class: we were, again, poor. two seemingly similar articles - the, a - separated by all of this ideology. those little words that so easily are thrown in are also easily misread and misunderstood. did you get that letter i sent you a few days ago? will you get this one? of course, enunciation and stress - of syllables, of ideas - are likewise right there, right in that word - the, a, - that my mother knew. so she cried when i said "i went to a store. sorry." because, though i forgot, it was intentional. it was that sort of spiteful childishness that enacted in me a defiance where i would not act in accordance with her wishes because we were at such odds. it was because i loved her. but would not love her enough to buy Berkshires for her.
she said nothing as she cried. it was the final straw in a long iteration of my disagreement with her theological - what i thought was - subordination. i left the house. i went to the store. i bought the stockings. i brought them to her. but that would not assuage her. the turned a was hallucinatory of the chasm between us that at that time i wanted to cross, but only tenuously, tentatively. because, well, had she known of Derrick - i thought then, but of course, she did know, which is why she never questioned what would happen if Derrick and i attended college together - she would certainly not love me anymore, was my thinking. a child, of course, can know such things are untrue. but i chose to not know what i knew. thus, a store, at least initially.
i only ask you if you have had a similar experience because of what happened in church a few days ago. as you know, i play for this small church here, maybe two hundred members: a drum kit, a B-3. that's it. i play the organ and will generally hit the tremolo button one too many times in one too many songs. but i love the switch from the woww-woww, woww-woww to the wowowowowowow, slow, to fast...and back again. anyway, this choir came from the university up the street and were all the rage because they had many members - i think sixty, so they boasted - and had nice robes. they practiced for hours in order to perfect songs. they did do-ra-me-fa-so-la-ti-do scales before beginning any such rehearsal. which is all well and good. you know we don't do that at my church. we just sing, loudly, grittily, angrily, happily - which is of course to say, with spirit. we practice a lot but we don't have as many members. which is, again, all well and good.
what was not well and good? well. we sang a song during praise and worship - we only have testimony service when we don't have visitors these days - that some guy named Israel made about being a friend of god. our small congregation loved the way we sang it. we slipped on a few notes, of course, but we clapped a lot, swayed as we sang, dipped and skipped. pretty much, we sang with our entire bodies. but as we sang - i got off the organ so Rob could play and i could lead the song - i noticed the director of the university choir eyeing me, not into the music at all and when the singers would slip on a note, he'd roll his eyes, laugh a bit at the woman next to him. they were asked to sing right after we finished.
well. what did they do? he said let's continue singing what the congregation was just singing but with a snide smirk, a ferocious smile. and they were loud. they had the notes correct. everything was precise. they did not move much - no swaying, no hands raised. they all began and ended phrases crisply. we might say they sang the song perfectly. the congregation - with all sixty people singing - sat. and did not move. not only was it presumptuous to continue the song we just sang. that was not the problem. it was that he wanted to correct our singing, to hold what we had done up to scrutiny to show us how it was supposed to be done. i won't say that the leader of this university choir was white (he was). what i will say is that his desire to correct us was nothing other than arrogance that allowed me to change the the store to a store with my mother. what do i mean? there was arrogance and egotism animating what they believed - and performed - to be the "right" version of the song. the assumption was that my group, the church group, was not intentional, that our singing lacked rigor, thought. there was a judgment, not just on the way we sounded and slipped with notes, but with how we believed one could embody spirit, how one could reach the divine, how one should sing to the lord a new song. he and his university group presumed us thoughtless. well. the congregation's non-response to that display showed them otherwise.
in any regard, i hope you receive this letter and that other i sent last week. these letters and those others are trying to say something to you if you would listen.
just a guy,