Once again, my preliminary Sunday plans were not fulfilled. While I was reconciled to self-see the city and maybe kill some time in one of the many Raleigh’s museums, the God’s will (this is going to be much more relevant than you can imagine by know) was very different from that. Acceptation of Mr. J’s invitation to his church was a very solid foundations of an experience that (more than 48 hours later) I still did not fully digest and that I will have very difficult time to describe as honestly, as accurately and as tactfully as possible.
Accompanied by his daughter (I guess she was about my age or slightly older), Mr. J picked me up at 9 am and we drove to the church, which gave me an opportunity to see a huge portion of the city. That was the right time for the first surprise of the day: although the capitol town, Raleigh can be proud on the amount of greenery all around. To me, such a “natural” look of a city is was nice than areas of concrete and nothing else but concrete.
We reached our destination about half an hour before the beginning of the service, which (almost unfortunately) guaranteed enough time to being introduced to pretty much anyone who came. But wait, I am rushing to much. I need to take a break and mention surprises number 2 and 3. I was not that naive to expect European-style church but instead got prepared for a church resembling a bigger living room or a conference room of some sort. However, I never ever imagined a complex of churches! There is huge parking lot and a huge building looking too much like a shopping center (e.g. a strip mall of some sort) and once I get close enough I see it. Those are not stores, neither businesses, those are various churches. Good seven churches, one tight next to the other, and you the only thing to do is to decide where to go – kinda like choosing between Subway, McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and some Chinese place.
The other interesting thing to find out, was that the church had its own school with a handful of classrooms for kids in the age group of 0-12. Everything looked new and nice and the classrooms were rather small, so I assume that kids receive lots of the teachers attention there. I nevertheless wonder how difficult it is for the “church kids” to transfer to a “regular” high school afterwards and what the level of education is like there.
As I said, I had to meet so many people that those questions remained unanswered and instead, I was repeating that magic formula of “Nice to meet you” again and again and occasionally I scared some people by revealing the field of my study. However, this intensive social spawning (literally as they characterized themselves as a “hugging chair”) allowed me to meet people of more nations and races, from various backgrounds and with variety of accents (including the guy who – after 3 years in the USA – spoke Spanish only) than in my whole life. In comparison to this particular church, JFK Airport is a place with basically no diversity of people at any given time point.
The service was unbelievable three hours long and over that time, my feelings about the place and people went through three developmental stages: from “What a place – I like it”, to “Where did I go/What do I do here” and finally to “I want to leave – now.” As for the pleasant part, it took over an hour and consisted of singing, announcements and remembrance of a passed-away member of the church community. The church had its own band, so they played live and did a great job. Good half of the band were African-Americans, who (in sharp contrast to me are very musical people), and I really enjoyed experiencing their talent live and so intensively. Once the musicians seemed to have enough of the performance (it might have taken almost an hour to reach that point), the first pastor made his announcements regarding upcoming events organized by the church. Then, it was the second pastor’s turn, who remembered a female African-American member of their “family.” I think he might have been bit more concise but nevertheless, he did a good job and I felt like all the listeners appreciated this moment and agreed with his words.
For the remaining time, the third pastor ran the show and it also was the time when my feelings underwent the stages 2 and 3. The key topic of the sermon was the disagreement with same-sex marriage, effectively legalized only two days ago. In the heat of his very strong and very obvious disapproval of same-sex marriage, to me the pastor was extremely difficult to understand. However, without any doubts, it was only apparent that he mocked at president Obama and that he did not want any homosexuals in his church. I was surprised how much appreciation he was receiving from the worshipers attending the service, while he was talking. In fact, the mass disapproval (I even dare to say grudge) was growing stronger and stronger with every other pastor’s sentence. I do support the right to express one’s opinions and believes but I was surprised to find so little tolerance right in the USA, the country that is so particular about the freedom.
Being aware I have missed a lot of his speech (the limitations being both my poor English and the lack of the ideological background), I can recall only a single argument for his position: the need for next generation (i.e. the generation believing in Jesus). He also said (and this one I understood very clearly) that the next generation can only be as good as this generation is. Do we really want to pass such an intolerance on our descendants?
My understanding is that part of the Christian belief is that humans were created by God and that God loves His people the way they are. If this is true, then I lack answers for the following questions. Why would have God created homosexuals if He had not mean them to be His followers? And why should not homosexuals have the same opportunity to practice their faith as supposedly majority population?
Once the preaching was over, several attendants of the service had opportunity to express themselves. At that point my brain had no capacity to absorb any more ideas and pretty much ignored anything that resembled English language. As a result, I cannot provide any comments except for that I finally reached the phase where I wanted to be somewhere else. Nevertheless, I would like to share these two points. First, I like the idea of active participation of service attendants as I think that exposure to other people’s opinions might be more enriching than mere listening to the “all-knowing” priest. Second, I wonder where the border between faith, fanaticism and manipulation lies. The third pastor was really a speaker – convincing, with lots enthusiasms – and I am very positive he would be capable of convincing anyone about anything. If someone can (seemingly) so easily rule over quite a crowd of people, then the ideas may not necessarily be so great and their rhetorical skills still gain them lots of credit and followers.
After the service, Mr. J decided I should meet his family (some of the people I met in the church already) and join them for lunch. The meeting point was a joined restaurant-grocery store called Whole Food – according to my understanding a hippie-like place offering organic food. Who cares – free food is free food. Apparently, the change offer of their fresh food from time to time and I was “lucky” enough to be there for their Indian bar. There were plenty options to choose from but my strategy was to pick only the stuff I was familiar with. That is how I ended up with pasta salad, green bean and mushrooms, and cooked tomatoes and squash.
I realized that after a while, it started to be little difficult to concentrate on so many people talking other than my mother language and to switch among slightly different accents of individual people. However, all that talking brought some interesting information about the country and the people and I was glad to share some about my country and culture. One of the four Mr. J’s daughters (probably the oldest one) and her husband showed a genuine interest in learning some Czech. By now, they can greet any Czech person they meet and also know how to say beer in Czech, so they are all set to go. Very interesting people were Mr. J’s brother- and sister-in-law who were missioners in Bolivia. It is pity I did not have a chance to talk some more to them. Their Granddaughter was particularly cute, capable of fluent switching from English to Spanish and vice versa.
Socially absolutely exhausted, I returned home at about 4 pm and with a very bad feeling I missed another chance to see the downtown Raleigh finally. However, I recovered rather fast (a blueberry bagel helped) and M joined me for our first exploratory trip to the heart of the city. By bus it was only a short ride (about 15 minutes). The bus driver tried to communicate with us but I understood barely anything – I only guessed that she might have asked if we were going to the Moore Square Station. I still do not know how that was relevant but we made it there safely and that is what matters.
We followed the blue signs to Capitol and took some pictures of skyscrapers along the way. The Capitol was all right but it did not quite meet my expectations. This does not mean that the building was not nice. I only hoped for something more majestic with a circular ground plan rather than a block with a round roof. Anyway, it looked very different from any European building I have seen so far which made it an object worth taking pictures. So were the statues surrounding it – I believe they were meant to remember the confederation. Right across the street, there were two museums but both of them were unfortunately closed already – the do as soon as 5 pm.
This means that when I go downtown the next I cannot wait until it finally feels comfortable outside, otherwise I will never see anything more than empty streets (except for people at restaurants). Another reason why not to stay too long is my dependence on bus transportation. I cannot believe that there is no more bus service after 7 pm!
To bring my day to an American conclusion, we had a Burger King supper. Thanks to this experience I can tick off “To try an American junk” on my To-Do List and spend the remaining time searching for a place where I could enjoy some healthier food (though I could not complain about the taste of this one).
To sum it up, a great portion of Sunday was a much more intensive experience than I really hoped for. While I spent way too much time out of my comfort zone, I am glad for this opportunity as it was so very different from anything I have experienced in my life. It also left me full of expectations if I can change my mind about what I witnessed as some more time passes. If this happens, then I need to update this post.