Not so very long ago, I came across a quote from the playwright, John Guare, “Writing is another kind of performance. You get to play all the parts,” he said. Sounded like just the ticket, so, as they say, I’m gonna write/tell/perform a little story for you here.
Maybe you remember that in the past I have mentioned that when I was a child and had wandered onto that oh-so-tempting path of naughtiness, my beloved Grandmother would say to me, “Jeanette, you have the devil in you as big as a hog. “ Well, I thought that that sounded pretty cool and I took it as a challenge. However, since I now have pretenses of being more citified, I have mentally modified that “big as a hog” thing into “a little demon.” Sometimes, well, maybe more often than not, still that little demon urges me onto the path of naughtiness to indulge in levity in places where other folks ordinarily don’t go. So today let’s laugh some about human foibles expressed through churchiness—especially since we are in the midst of the mournful season of Lent.
The thing that brought this to mind is something that I recently have observed: there seems to be a proliferation of storefront churches. Repurposing buildings is a very valuable thing for our community and I applaud the imagination in seeing a place of worship in a defunct restaurant or factory building. (Here, with difficulty, I’ll bypass a come-hither digression concerning the worship of food or commerce.) Since I lack that repurposing imagination myself though, I’m often surprised when I see where these storefront churches have popped up. Also, with all of the talk about the precipitous decline in the number of those in our nation who are “churched,” it is interesting to see these new gathering places coming into being.
Based on my former years spent in the Southland, I shouldn’t be surprised by this inventive-venue trend though. Although there is the millennium-long tradition of the “cathedral” architectural mode, and over the past half century, we’ve had the “modernist” movement, the very-inventive, basement-only Southern style of architecture has long been on my list of favorites. If you’ve driven much through the landscape of the South, you’ve probably seen these. They stand about three and one half feet high, are abutted on the front by concrete steps and are flat on the top save for a door at the top of the steps. In an act of faith that the funds for a “real” building will come in time, the congregations forge ahead and “build” a basement. That’s what they use in the interim and that’s what you see as you drive past: the foundation/basement. Admittedly, it looks peculiar when you come upon it, until your mind processes it and you realize what you are seeing: a freestanding, for-the-moment-it-ends-here, enclosed basement.
Spring, road-trip-time, is upon us, so memories of meanderings through the landscape of basement-church-land came bubbling up in my mind. In addition to knowing about that snake-handling thing, Larry, my guide to all-things Tennessee, once had this entrepreneurial flash and marketing-genius moment while we were driving by one of those basement-churches on a warm spring day. As we saw the sun-speckled gravel parking lot that was fairly full of better-than-average cars, he turned to me and said, “You know, if only we had some of those multi-colored plastic pennant flags, we could hang ‘em up and sell a couple of these cars while those people are down in there.” In the American way, he had hit on a moneymaking scheme that sprang from the basement-church situation; create a need and fill it!
So, there’s one light-hearted church story that is based in truth but ends in fantasy. This little story isn’t nearly all of the parts that need playing though—you need to jump in and make yourself smile with oddities that you have witnessed or imagined. That’s what will make this performance complete.