I wouldn’t have been caught dead in church without a suit on, properly tailored, with scuff-free, majorly polished shoes, a nicely coordinated tie, and dress socks to match. My mother would have my clothes laid out for me on the bed first thing every Saturday morning, the shoes newly shined on the floor. And most of the time I felt like that outfit, those shoes, they were my ultimate bondage. It wasn’t because I didn’t appreciate church, because most of the time I did, and it wasn’t like I hated the other churchgoers, because I liked the vast majority of them. Those clothes were bondage to me because I was forced to go. I had no choice in the matter. And no matter how wonderful something might be, if you have no choice in it, it is merely a fancy kind of cage.
We arrived at church early every Saturday morning because my mother was a Sabbath school teacher, and because we lived half an hour away from our church. North Philadelphia in those days was more like a rotten husk being eaten away day by day, so the trip to church was almost like going through a war zone. Of course, back then, I didn’t recognize most of what was going on, on those street corners, through those wide open windows of the tenements nearby. We would get to church, head through those doors, and the outside world would disappear. I still recall the sound of my shoes clicking down the hallway inside the entrance of the North Philadelphia SDA Church, the cries of children being shuffled quickly out of the service, and the feedback from the microphone in the large room downstairs where we had Sabbath school.
And it wasn’t just every Saturday either. Growing up in an ultra-religious household meant that I was suiting up more and more often as the years went on. First, it was on Saturday mornings, bright and early. That would be the start of an entire day’s worth of services. Sabbath school melted into church service (most times it was longer than three hours in length), which became a quick lunch downstairs, followed by fellowship with others who also stayed all day, and then Saturday night vespers. We wouldn’t get home until well after dark, and it still didn’t stop then. Later on it was also Wednesday night prayer service, Friday night vespers, and Sunday with the Pathfinders (the SDA’s form of boyscouts and/or girlscouts), wearing a different kind of suit, but with just as much bondage involved.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t have fond memories of the church, of wearing that suit, because I do, but thinking back on it, I think the memories would have been much fonder without the lens of bondage I felt overshadowed everything. Maybe if I could have worn jeans just once…