America is a unique being. It is a single united country with a single President, however it has 50 individual states, each with their own laws, governors, courts, and general ways of doing things. In order to understand, you have to think of each state in the USA as if it is own individual country, only bound to each other through national (federal) laws and regulations. The people in each state have their own values, foods and even their own accents. Many people who have been to LA, New York or other main tourist destinations may not find this the case, because big cities around the world are all very similar. However if you have been to Texas, you notice right away that it is very different. In my opinion and experience, Texas is so unlike any other state in the USA. It really is just different. And this past weekend, I definitely felt that difference.
I lived in Texas until I was almost 5 years old, and my family returned during the following summers to visit friends and family. I grew up in the countryside, near a tiny town called Poetry, and my childhood involved a sheepdog called Shellie, toasting marshmallows outside in our forest, playing outside and very little of the prevalent fast food that plagues the nation now. I grew up knowing Texas and all the wonderful things it had to offer, including pulled pork, Tex Mex, the Arlington Six Flags theme park, hot 100 degree summers and welcoming Southern hospitality. However, growing up overseas, I realized how lucky I was not to live there – schools in Texas, and in lots of other states now, have metal detectors at school entrances. Because kids carry knives to school. College students can even carry guns to their classes (at certain colleges only). And the American flag is always at half mast to mourn victims of a recent shooting. Will it ever be raised fully?
Although I always wanted to return to Texas and continue to grow up there, we had a much safer upbringing in New Zealand, and even in Indonesia. In New Zealand, the police do not carry guns. They recently were allowed to carry tasers, which many people opposed. However in Texas, you don’t need a license to buy a handgun or a rifle. This is the general population, not police. You need a license to carry a concealed weapon, but anyone is allowed to buy a long gun from a dealer or private seller provided that they are over 18 years of age and have no felony convictions. You can buy a hand gun at 21. You can also use deadly force to protect your property. Even if you ignore the fact that Texas is different because “everything is bigger in Texas”, Texas really is completely and totally different.
And this past Sunday, I really experienced Texas. We attended a morning service at the local Baptist Church with my Grandad and Aunt. My Grandad has attended that church for almost half a century. And in 1999, it was the location of a massacre where a lone gunman (17 years old) came in and shot at a 150 person congregation on a Wednesday night. 7 people died (luckily only 7) and the gunman turned his gun on himself at the end. It is just crazy that this happens. Although most Texans would say that this is why more people need to be able to carry guns. Criminals will always get guns, no matter what the law is, and therefore if someone starts shooting at a church, a mall or a restaurant, you want people to take the gunman out. If law-abiding citizens can carry guns, they may be able to take the gunman out and save lives.
I have always been anti-guns, but Texans present a convincing argument. And after we attended Church, we went to Luby’s, a chain restaurant which had its own massacre in 1991. 23 people died and 20 people were injured. It was the deadliest shooting massacre until the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. And this was in an ordinary restaurant, with ordinary people. Unlike the Church, where the gunman may have had anti-Baptist feelings, there was nothing that made Luby’s any more of a target than your typical fast food joint.
So even knowing that people previously died at this Church, I still wanted to attend the service. I wanted to see what a Southern Baptist church really was like. If it was as restrictive and conservative as I thought. And honestly, no words can even describe the experience. It was so different to what I expected. Firstly, it is incredibly progressive. My Mom, who attended the Church whilst growing up in Fort Worth, could not believe how progressive and modern it had become. And personally, I could not believe the entire service.
Clear your mind and visualize 2 guitarists, a drummer, a pianist and keyboard player, 5 performers with microphones on stage, with a choir behind them. People moving with the music, yelling out, clapping, and raising their hands fist pumping in the air. It sounds like a rock concert of sorts doesn’t it? This was no rock concert, this was the Sunday morning church service. It was like those televised Church services on Sunday mornings. So superficial and put on, a performance of sorts. People actually said “Hallelujah” or would speak out and agree, “Oh Lord” during the service. And during the songs, people would close their eyes, sway, and raise their hands (to the Lord) up high and keep them there. That would get tiring after a while…must be good exercise I guess for their arm muscles!
Now I am not a complete foreigner to religion. I attended an Anglican high school, where I attended church services and sang in the choir for several years. I love choral music and although I do not practice religion, I am not an atheist. I just have not found a religion that I can fully identify with. I understand the attraction of religion and at school services have considered religion. Even in my more adult years I have attended services and find them really peaceful and beautiful. I enjoy the hymns, the spirituality and the values taught in such services. But I disagree with how religion can be so black and white, and I prefer to take what I like from religion and live life my way with my own values, regardless of what a preacher or what a text says on how I should live my life. But attending that service, all I could think was “Get me out of here!!”. There ain’t no way I am going to be a Southern Baptist I am sorry but firstly, where are the beautiful hymns. What was that they were singing! It was horrific. It was like modern music to brainwash youngsters into attending church, but with really black and white messages, and very man made with prominent messages portrayed through the songs. What happened to Ave Maria, The Lord is my Shepard and even the Lord’s prayer??
And speaking of the black and white, they “dedicated” two children to the church during the service. The Minister asked the parents to pledge to bring the children up in the Baptist faith, because ‘if you are not brought up a Baptist from day one you are doomed to fail’. It was basically ‘us’ versus ‘the enemy’. Jesus Christ. No wonder cults pop up like the one in Waco Texas years ago. People truly believe that you have to follow that faith in order to be saved, and to live a wholesome life you must dedicate yourself truly and completely to their God and their values. And during one part of the service, the elderly and disabled went up to have the Minister pray with them, as if to heal them!?! As I said earlier…words cannot begin to describe…
The one thing that made it all bearable was that up front, there was a woman interpreting the service in American Sign Language (“ASL”)! It was incredible! I really enjoyed watching and trying to learn ASL during the service. Many of the words I will never use in day to day signing, such as Lord, Jesus, sacrifice and worship, but it was interesting. In New Zealand, interpreters are scarce and costly. Many people do not know anything about Deaf people, Deaf culture or sign language itself, despite New Zealand Sign Language being an official language of New Zealand. So I just thought it was great that there was an interpreter for the Deaf at a Church, as I have never come across that in New Zealand. Although then again I haven’t attended too many churches there to really say.
And another progressive thing that made me think of the services you see on TV is that it is filmed and put on the Internet! So if you want to watch the 36 minute sermon I endured, where the Minister discussed a passage of the Bible, and also compared church goers to Indian beggars wanting 1 rupee on the streets of India, this Church uploads all their sermons online!! So, due to the wonderful creation of the Internet, you no longer have to take notes of the sermon (although most of the congregation was)! Or, even if you have taken notes, you can revise and take more notes once you are home!!
And even better, if you want to listen to the music, the announcements and hear the random outbursts of “Hallelujah” throughout, the Church streams if live! So really, Mom and I could have stayed in Garland, rather than woken at 6:30 in the morning to get ready and drive over an hour to Fort Worth for Church. Or, if I ever feel compelled to convert, I can watch the services online after I return to San Diego. Personally I don’t think I will…but you never know, pigs might fly.