On Sundays in a Southern town, every restaurant—from the neighborhood Wendy’s to the trendy brunch place downtown—is filled with crowds of unusually tidy families. Between Easter and Labor Day, small children will be covered in pastels and squeaky white shoes. Mothers in florals, fathers in linen. Between Labor Day and Easter, wardrobes darken, fur coats and tights emerge, and stiff snow boots are occasionally laced up.
Whether or not you sit quietly in a pew each Sunday, in the South, church is our uniform. Whether or not you tune out the sermon to your salivating dreams of eating fried chicken or Eggs Florentine for post-Church brunch, you can feel Church in that southern air. You smell it in the barbeques and picnics and brunches, you hear it in the church bells, you wait behind it in the traffic, you know it. Whether or not you identify with it, you know it.
However, those born into areas other than the Bible Belt should note that 75% of all Southerners identify as Christian. I was Christian before I even knew what Christian was. In fact, I celebrated my first holiday, Easter, on April 12 of 1998: just 6 days after I was born.
Being a spring baby in the South, Easter was tangled with my identity in my early years. Especially those years when birthdays meant everything.
I grew up going to church periodically. Some years I was religious, other years I wasn’t. I absolutely hated bible school, so my parents didn’t send me. If I had too much homework, we didn’t attend church that Sunday. Religion was central to my family, but we were members of a fairly liberal parish. We criticized and debated the Bible and Christianity, we questioned our faith, we learned about other religions, we doubted everything we were told, yet every Sunday, we wore that Southern Uniform.
In the 5th grade, I learned how to write persuasively, how to debate effectively, how to go through puberty—really, I learned how to be a fully formed human being. I questioned everything, including my religious identity. I had never felt God’s presence or heard his voice. Sometimes I wondered if He even existed let alone spoke to me. I never listened in Church. I didn’t even know enough basic Christian theology to understand the Bible on my own.
Since then, my faith has ranged from hyper-spirituality to near Atheism. Currently, I am somewhere in the center. I have always questioned the Church, organized religion, theology, religious extremism, interpretations, language, idolatry, and above all, I questioned the reality of God. Yet somehow, through seventeen years of Southern Sundays and two years of quasi-independence, I never questioned the bible as a medium; the Bible as a medium outside of religion—the Bible as a medium that carries a separate or complementary message than the words themselves.
I am the youngest of three children, thus my childhood was laced with envy. I watched my siblings step-by-step grow into functioning members of society while I trailed behind coated in their dust, clothed in their hand-me-downs. Before I could read, I was often envious as I idly watched my sister do her esteemed first-grade homework. Naturally, I decided that I too had homework: I sat next to her with my illustrated baby pink children’s Bible—a baby shower gift from my grandmother—and went to work blissfully flipping through the endless pages of indecipherable words, my small hands relishing the paper’s smooth touch. I insisted this Bible was my first-grade book.
My family has long since misplaced my first-grade book somewhere in the attic among my childhood paintings, my color-coordinated notes for fifth-grade ancient history, my track and field medals, and my discarded AP English papers.
One floor below the attic, in a woven bin on the bottom shelf of my bedside table, on top of my used high school journal, is a pink leather bible. I bought it around 7 years ago from the now-closed Davis Kidd Booksellers on Poplar Avenue during one of my hyper-spiritual phases. The pink was darker than my first-grade book. More mature. The pages were just as sinfully soft, but this time trimmed in silver. More regal. Since then, this Bible has traveled with me across the country, across the Pacific and the Atlantic, and across endless rivers. Sometimes I would read to seek comfort, other times I would read to question. But all of this time, I only considered the words. I only questioned whether it was the “Word of God” or a collection of words written, translated, and typed by imperfect men and women—or even if the Book itself were complete bullshit.
Looking back, I wonder if the pages comforted me rather than the words. I wonder if I had faith in the Religion or the book. In both of my pink bibles, I hunted for knowledge, for evidence, for legitimacy. Would I have reached for that baby pink illustrated children’s bible if it had been a brown book of coarse pages? It could not have been the words or even the message that attracted me. I was not the kind of child who sat in the pew every Sunday in mother’s handpicked outfits passively listening to the big man standing on a platform using strange language. No, I chose my own outfits with my own scuffed black shoes. I sat on the floor between the pews coloring pictures of dolphins and elephants, daydreaming of biscuits or pancakes with extra syrup. Something in the soft shade of pink on the cover made my small three-year-old body feel warm, though I didn’t yet know the broader implications of organized religion and the flaws of the Church (I will discuss these things another time). I remember my baby pink bible more than any other book from my childhood. I would hold it when I was sad, look at the pictures when I was bored, practice reading, use it as a prop in the endless number of plays my best friend Judy and I would put on, and use it as a “law book” while playing lawyer alone in my room. Yet I can’t remember a single word. If the book is more memorable to me than the scripture, aren’t the physical characteristics worth questioning and analyzing?
The Bibles I grew up holding, and sometimes reading, had delicate pages made from paper as soft as velvet and thin as daisy petals. Bibles tend to be printed on ultra-thin paper because they require an absurd amount of pages; to me, these pages signaled something else. As an emotionally turbulent child (and adult), I found tranquility in flipping through my pink bibles.
Similarly, the covers of both were soft in both touch and appearance. Pink is a warm color and is usually attributed to comfort, delicacy, exoticism, and softness. Pink lips, pink cheeks, pink labia, pink phallus, pink clouds, pink skies, etc. The pink shades of both covers warmed me, regardless of the message inside.
However, comfort disappears once readers look beyond the cover. There, they notice the 1,500+ daunting pages of endless columns of 8.5 font words. As a three-year-old, I could not grasp the implications of such a lengthy and verbose book. Even being a native English speaker with a particular interest in reading and an attraction to soft pink bibles, I was intimidated whenever I considered reading the book. If the miniscule typeface and column-style format dissuaded me: an educated Christian raised to question and understand from interpreting the Bible on my own, what could the implications be on a larger scale? Though current English translations are modernized and accessible to the average Anglophone, the language is still remarkably outdated and formal. Years ago, I assumed this “fancy” language fit the Bible. I was taught that the Bible was “The Word of God.” Some believed it was perfect, others claimed it was up to interpretation. My young brain had no opinion. I just knew that my Bibles were special—they weren’t like the rest of the books I piled on my bookshelves. I kept my pink Bibles next to my bed. They were grander. More holy than the rest. They were pink.