as a rule, people do not swear in church. especially people standing in the pulpit. so you can imagine the collective inhalation of scandalized breaths this past sunday when the person standing in the pulpit of our church said "shit."
the drama of this moment was heightened by a few things.
namely, that our rather famous speaker was an 80-year-old, black man from mississippi who was improperly miked.
he seemed like your typical 80-year-old man. gruff voice, hunched, rather fragile, an impression enhanced by the fact that he leaned over the lectern as though it was an enormous plastic crutch and undermined by the illusion that God might grant him the strength to unexpectedly hurl it like a lightening bolt should the occasion demand.
so we're talking about an 80-year-old mississippi man here. and we mississippi people, we sometimes talk slow, a condition that worsens with age and is most noticeable when taken out of context, say placed alongside 35-year-old preachers with ADD.
it would be an understatement to say that our rather famous speaker talked slowly. the man stretched "ain't" out for a full four syllables. i know. i counted.
this slowness was compounded by the disconcerting habit, shared by my grandfather, of adjusting his volume down at precisely the moment he was making The Big Point. the moment when any other normal person would've raised their voice. thus, there was The Big Point you'd been waiting for, maddeningly hushed, barely whispered. it was an exercise in frustration.
one our rather famous speaker seemed to derive sadistic joy from, as every now and again he spontaneously rose his voice to a guttural bark that ricocheted around the room, awaking OK, who'd been lulled to sleep by The Big Point, with a violent start.
it's hard to pin down what exactly was the most uncomfortable moment here, which is surprisingly apt given the fact the service kicked off with an asian american girl speaking on asian heritage month and saying her favorite part about our church was that we're all pretty much uncomfortable all the time.
the most uncomfortable moment could have been when our rather famous speaker exclaimed HERESY! against a point that asian american girl had clearly taken pains to declare a truth not twenty minutes before. (outside of cecil b. demille movies, i don't think any of us had ever heard anyone branded a heretic before. it was invigorating to say the least.)
or it could have been the moment when our rather famous speaker broke down and sobbed at extreme high volume as the sound guys scrambled to turn him down and the toddler in the row ahead of us turned around, balled-up fists squished into his ears, and said, make it stop!
or it could have been the involuntary church-wide sigh unleashed when we had been sitting there for what felt like no less than four hours and our rather famous speaker said, now i just have five more points to make today.
but, who am i kidding? clearly, the most uncomfortable moment was when our rather famous speaker, emerging from a whispered Big Point and grasping the plastic pulpit so hard i was convinced the great hurl was upon us, shouted, apropos of nothing, WE AIN'T DONE SHIT!
because of all the things you expect to hear in a sermon, "shit" isn't one of them.
amidst the electrifying whoosh that moved through the air as all the hands of all the mothers clamped to their infants' ears, all i could think was this man is my people. because there is nothing more southern than religious spectacle. and there is nothing more spectacular than watching an old-ass mississippian get away with saying shit like that.