As you can imagine, it’s pretty easy to wind up a minority or to otherwise stick out – often by accident – on a year-long road trip.
It can be what I’m wearing – whether too formal or too informal. It can be my marital status, like at the all married-people Super Bowl party. It can be my ethnicity (or lack thereof), like joining in the college ministry of a largely Asian church just the other day. Even showing up as an “unaccompanied visitor” to a ministry attracts attention at times.
Plus, there’s the fact that I’m technically homeless, jobless, and on a year-long road trip.
So sometimes I stick out.
But last week presented the longest odds yet in my pursuit of “fitting in,” as I found myself in Women’s Chapel at California Baptist University.
Woman’s chapel! All womans! And Benson!
[Because of the disorienting nature of this experience, I can’t be sure that the recollections below are 100% accurate. Keep that in mind.]
When I walked in to the Cal Baptist gym, the first thing I assume I noticed was the heavy smell of perfume and toenail polish in the room. A few girls had their feet up already, cotton balls between toes. Other ladies seemed quite happy remaining in their big, poofy boots. Meanwhile, the gym’s bleacher seating seemed to aid the girls in mutual hair-braiding, while all the girls in the floor seats just passed around scrunchies. At least that’s what I remember.
Walking down the aisle to my seat near the front, I could feel the eyes. I was a boy, a foreigner, an intruder about to hear secrets. “This is Woman’s Chapel,” their eyes protested. “Can’t this boy read a chapel schedule?” Really, I’m supposed to be here, I replied in my mind. I was invited. I won’t be in town Friday, for Men’s Chapel. This is my only shot to see spiritual life here at CBU. I promise. I have permission. Please don’t hurt me.
Wait – Walking to my seat, I see another boy. A brother, a colleague, a friend.
Oh – he’s the photographer. He’s supposed to be here. He’s okay. He’s recording the gathering of this glorious sisterhood for posterity, for the yearbook or the school paper.
Wait – there’s another maleperson. Oh – he’s the speaker (with his wife). So he’s okay, too.
But not me. I’m all alone.
I’m sitting on the front row, courtside, hundreds of girlish eyes boring into the back of my head – while the opposite bleachers present a wall of femininity staring back at me. There’s some big hair over there. When is this going to start?
I was determined to sit as small in my seat as possible, to be very still and quiet. Though I could never blend in, perhaps I could be forgotten. At one point, I touched the foot of the girl behind me, which lay on my armrest. It was an accident. I’m sorry. You can have the arm… er… footrest. I’m sorry.
So scared, so alone.
The worship time was great, actually. Those girls can play, and sing. But concentrating is tricky when any of those worship leaders, at any moment, could lead the crowd in beating me up. Even the little one on the drum, with the cap. She seems cool enough – but I’m well aware things could get nasty quick.
I sang, but not too loudly. Or deeply. Now was not the time for harmony, but conformity. There’s a difference.
The speakers began. Fortunately for me, the boy, the message was about… girl-purity! And girl-modesty! Topics which are ultra-comfortable for the boy in an all-woman crowd. Especially when the speakers are strong enough to be blunt and honest and specific.
The speakers also spoke about these girls waiting for God to provide a good guy – not settling for a nasty bad jerk guy. As an example of the latter, I think I remember the speaker pointing right at me, and everyone scowling. One girl raised her fist. Another slipped me a threatening note, complete with cursive flourishes and hearts dotting the i’s, even in the words “kill” and “don’t think you can hide.” (I would have saved the note as proof, but it exploded.)
Then, after all that talk about finding a strong, Christian guy (it actually was a really good message), the speakers’ son closed out the chapel with a song. That he sang. About waiting for a great girl. That he wrote. While playing the guitar. Basically a personal serenade, for each and every girl in that room. Who had just heard all about waiting for a good Christian guy just like this one. Lucky punk.
He probably got about 63 new Facebook friends that day. I got slapped in the face on the way out. Repeatedly.
At least that’s what I think happened. It’s all kind of a blur.
Written from San Luis Obispo