Exile from the Garden of Eden
The microphone looms at the front of the church, beckoning. There is an expectant silence as the congregation waits for someone to go up and speak. It is my turn, it has been my turn for the past three weeks but I have been too afraid to do it.
It is like a force pressing down on me, the need to go up there and say what I need to say. The Spirit is not suggesting, no longer merely prompting; it is an urge, the Spirit is not nudging but pushing me to do it. I breathe deeply, heavily, with the nervousness of a man who is about to propose but with a much less knowable outcome.
If I don’t do it now, it will still be there next week. If I ignore it forever, I will one day hate myself for failing to speak.
I was taught to view the Bible as the literal Word of God. Everything in it was meant to be taken literally. Probably the most controversial application of that is and always has been the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis.
The story of Adam and Eve is used both as a lesson in why we all sin, and as a cautionary tale. This is what happens when you fuck up. Even as a little girl I knew that I didn’t want to be Eve. No amount of temptation could entice me to eat the apple.
As I sidled into adulthood, I began to feel more and more like the fruit-eating whore of Genesis. The church pushed me out and I fell prey to that ultimate depravity — sex before marriage. I began reading different viewpoints of creation, religion, the Universe —that was heresy. I ran away from my husband into the arms of an old friend and I was emotionally guilty of a sin worse than the original one — adultery.
Yes, I had become the Eve I had spent my childhood and teen years swearing to never become.
I didn’t find Mitch Horowitz until after I finally left Atlas. He discusses how the story of Adam and Eve could represent something I had never considered: our liberation from the oppression of the church. Far from bringing death to Eve’s door, the serpent in the story gave her the gift of knowledge, rather than blind obedience. He opened her eyes.
“I hate this carpet.”
The words ring out across the church and for a moment afterward there is complete silence. Shocked silence.
My heart is pounding in my chest and that damn blush spreads across my face. I’m not sure how to go on but I have to —
The youth pastor jumps off the stage from his post as worship leader. “Misty, come on,” he says, not quite pushing me away from the mic. Pastor Wolf is there, too, even though I didn’t see him approach, telling me to get back to my seat, to shut my mouth, it’s not my place to speak.
“But — ”
But what? Really? I don’t know what I had expected to happen. Did I think the church members would start nodding their heads, agreeing with the sage advice of an over-zealous teenager? That they would be struck with grief and repentance?
It isn’t the new carpet I hate, really. It is everything the carpet stands for. The cliques that dominate Coldwater Community Church’s social scene. The mission trips that give a week of Bible studies and childcare to people in need and leave nothing substantial behind. The materialism (We don’t want to mess up the new carpet by dragging our new chairs across it, we’re a lifting and carrying church now).
I never get a chance to say that I can see how the Wolves are pushing out those sheep who won’t allow themselves to be fed on. I can see how Coldwater Community is running through a closed loop, never allowing different points of view or letting in anything new. How the vision that had united us as an infant church however many years ago has faded into just another feeding ground. I never get to say any of those things.
The congregation is only allowed to know that I hate the carpet.
A week later the Wolves, all five elders of the church, sit me down and explain to me all the reasons why I am a bad little sheep. If I have a problem, they say, I should bring it directly to the church elders. So they can sweep it under the rug, I suppose. Yes, women are allowed to stand up at the mic these days and say their piece, but we aren’t allowed to say anything controversial. About the fact that my mother’s divorce is an indirect topic of every sermon Pastor Wolf has given for the past two months, I am not allowed to have an opinion.
I don’t get much of an opportunity to explain what I meant to say. That those words were just the beginning of Misty’s story. I don’t, at this point in my life, have all of the words to explain it. I am banned from using the open mic at the beginning of the service for some time, like a naughty child.
A dissonance splits open in me. I was doing what I had felt the Spirit telling me to do. Why, then, do I feel like I’ve done something so bad? I have dared to confront the Wolves, and the Wolves will always shut you down for doing so, but of course I don’t know this yet. I only know that “I hate this carpet” was such a stupid thing to say.
Like Eve, I feel a huge sense of nakedness and shame. And to cover my nakedness and hide my shame, like Eve, I flee. It will be another decade before I seek out the serpent and dare to face the Wolves again.