The In Between
Enticed with the promise of birthday brownies and World Cup soccer, I visited a friend the day before I was supposed to fly to France. After the game ended, I challenged him to a badminton match, but setting up the net proved to be too much of a challenge. We settled on jumping on the neighbor’s trampoline instead.
Between the number of people roaming through the airport, the seemingly endless underground tunnels for cars, the marked presence of public transportation, and, of course, the bay, what struck me about the city was not to so much what was moving, but how quickly it moved. Time seemed to contract in on itself and double over, as though the sun had had one too many espresso shots and was desperately trying to meet some looming, cosmic deadline.
Aldous L. Huxley, author of “Brave New World,” reminds us that the tendency of man to “not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” One of the most important factors that influences the emphasis we place on history is the academic environment in which we grow up. Therefore, in order for people to correctly learn history’s lessons, these academic environments must reflect history in a holistic way, putting as much emphasis on historical failures as successes.
It’s no surprise that the South, and Alabama, in particular, is religious to its core. Religion’s influence is everywhere: Little white churches dot the highways, Jesus the lyrics of songs on the radio, and biblical terminology the vocabulary of third graders and soccer moms alike.
Alabama’s relationship with Christianity, however, is far more intimate than colloquial phrases and rooftop crosses may suggest. Though convention dictates the separation of church and state, Alabama, at least in its expectation of decorum, views the two as one unit. Because Alabama places such emphasis on propriety as a prerequisite for being a good citizen, its largely religious character tends to carry into its social expectations. As a result, perceived decency hinges not so much on an adherence to the Christian faith as an adherence to its southern aesthetic. This aesthetic has become synonymous with that which is considered proper.
I was most recently reminded of this the last time I wore shorts on a 90-degree, early Sunday afternoon and found myself on the receiving end of some questioning stares. As I uncomfortably waited in line for an acai bowl at a trendy new shop, the shop slowly swelled with a few families who, it appeared, had decided to drop by after service at a church nearby. Though the looks never lasted for more than a second or so, disapproval became increasingly palpable as I willed myself to blend into the wall behind me—to no avail. As their eyes tracked my outright dash for the door, it finally hit me: Nobody really cared if I went to Sunday service, they just wanted me to look like I did.
Despite its reputation, most of the state’s religious community acts the same way you’d expect a pair of good neighbors to act whenever you saw them. They greet you with a smile, offer some sweet tea and a Bible verse, invite you to their next event (be that a dinner party or a service), and peacefully let you slip away. Invariably, they’re happy when you do accept their invitation but harbor no harsh judgements when you don’t until, regardless of what you choose, and a few weeks later they see you and extend the invitation again.