I unhitch myself from the Manhattan express. Uncouple from the moving circus of light and sound. Go south. I’m on island time. Which is to say, slow-to-hardly-moving-at-all-time. I’m not on an actual island. We lived on Pleasure Island in Carolina Beach, a tiny beach town, for five years before moving to NYC. But I’m visiting my relatives in North Carolina during my son’s Spring Break. My father-in-law’s new home is not on Pleasure Island. It’s five miles up the road in Wilmington. So, technically, I’m on Southern time. Close enough to island time for me.
I was already on island time when I visited my sister and her family Sunday in Kannapolis, which is nowhere near the ocean. I sat bolt upright in bed around 6:30 a.m. No one had to go to school or be anywhere. The dog didn’t even have to be walked since he stayed in New York with my wife for this vacation. He did actually have to be walked. The walk just wouldn’t involve me for once. So, since I was up, I went to an early contemporary church service with my niece.
She gave me the straight dope on her church, painting a vivid picture of ongoing intrigues. The church has an interim-interim pastor due to a series of unfortunate events. The interim-interim pastor is about a thousand years old and refuses to sing along with the cheery newfangled gospel songs at the contemporary service. He stares glumly about the congregation while popish hymns are sung and played on an acoustic guitar. During each service, he recites an old Testament verse and a new Testament verse at great length that correlate only in his own mind.
The praise choir at the contemporary service has run slightly amok recently and begun to deliver small unauthorized mini-sermons in between bouncy songs. The congregation wants to make it stop, but no one quite knows how to make that request. It’s like an overly enthusiastic mascot running onto the football field to make a tackle during a big game.
The plush comfortable chairs people would enjoy sitting on are all regularly stacked up along the side of the church while people routinely sit in uncomfortable metal folding chairs around tables for the contemporary service. This is because the church powers-that-be found it was too much trouble to move all the comfortable chairs out again after the regular Holy Hot Dog Friday fund-raiser that necessitates the tables and chairs.
And two small brothers sit with inadequate supervision from their parents at the back of the church at one of the tables playing with Leggos and talking loudly throughout the contemporary service each week. Each destroys the other’s Leggo towers, and they bicker passionately over the ownership of crucial building blocks. When the preacher pumps up the volume on his sermon to be heard over the boys, they raise their voices as a countermeasure.
Always ready to enjoy someone else’s drama, I was glad for the colorful debriefing. Only some of the foretold mini-dramas came to pass. We grabbed a seat in two rows of comfortable chairs mercifully left out this week. The praise band left the preaching to the pastor. The two little boys behaved themselves, putting all their energy into coloring books.
But the pastor did stare vaguely about during the praise choir songs. The old and new testament verses he recited had absolutely nothing to do with one another. He seemed trapped inside the ill-fitting contemporary service, like a businessman forced by his wife to wear a loud shirt and shorts while on a tropical vacation who keeps on his dark socks because he believes deeply in wearing dark socks at all times.
I’m sure the small myriad dramas at my niece’s church are similar to a million others taking place in churches across the country. They build in slow island time, morphing and reassembling themselves constantly. Like Leggo towers built by unruly children.
It all probably seems horribly banal and ridiculously boring unless you are a stranger in a strange land visiting from some far off metropolis who has all the time in the world to fixate on tiny dramas and imagine that our lives are only a collection of such dramas, our very selves made up of melodramatic story lines unspooling over a slow lifetime with uncertain ends.