Slight Adjustments

While my body is constantly in America, my mind is often in Ukraine. And I’m not talking about memories. My outlook on life is so changed that I routinely act in manner more befitting a Ukrainian than an American.

I realized I’ve been wearing the same clothes to work out in all week. I know to you this probably sounds disgusting, but it didn’t even register on my scale of abnormal. The clothes still smelled like laundry detergent. It seemed sacrilegious to throw them in the hamper after a mere 60 minutes of physical activity.

I went to a class at the gym on Wednesday morning. In lieu of a description, there was an acronym on the schedule “24 S.E.T.” For those of you who are as culturally illiterate as I am, I will enlighten you. It’s an hour workout on “The Biggest Loser” television show, and it is not for the fainthearted. Nor is it for those who haven’t picked up a dumbbell in 15 months. I was huffing and puffing like Joe Camel. The techno music and florescent lighting didn’t help.

My experience at the gym isn’t far off from my latest reassessment of American life in general. Both are loud, bright and clean. I left the gym with my head spinning and took refuge in the quiet, dark car, wearing my two-day-old shorts and T-shirt.

One of the things I missed most while in Ukraine was Church. I’d try to recreate the experience with music and Bible reading in my apartment, but I was really longing to be back in an American pew. Well, I got my wish. Sitting in a stadium style seat in Dallas, Texas, I was shocked by how cultural the whole experience was. I know, that’s what I said I was missing, American Church, and that’s exactly what I got. A blueprint of the new, hipster house of worship, complete with a chatty young minister wearing jeans and tennis shoes and confessing his former addiction to porn. Ah, pornography the most fashionable of sins. Drugs take it too far, sex is too political, but porn is just the right amount of naughty to be a permissible confession from the noticeably non-pulpit. This is an admittedly critical reflection of what I’m sure was a genuine worship service for many middle to upper class predominately white Texans. I just couldn’t get into it.

Since church isn’t about what makes me feel good but instead about worshipping and glorifying God, I decided to keep going. Not to the specific church in question (I don’t live in Dallas), but to another imperfect church for imperfect people. After the service, I decided to hit up a Sunday school class. What I really value about the church is the blending of age groups and sharing of wisdom. I don’t want to go to a class filled with people like me. I’m with me all the time. I know how I think. So I picked a class called “Blended by God,” and listed for “All Ages.” As I walked into the room I noticed young couples, older singles and then a familiar face, a high school friend’s mom. “Claire!?!? What are you doing here?” she exclaimed. Feeling slightly put off by the unwelcoming tone, I responded, “Going to church?” a little unsure of myself. “But you’re in the wrong class! This is Blended by God,” she said in exasperation. I tried to reason with her, “Aren’t we all blended by God?” Then she gave it to me straight. “This is for divorced families and remarried people.” Oops. That euphemism was a little too vague for culture-shocked me to pick up on without someone spelling it out for me. I need a lot of spelling out and directness these days. Americans are just too polite to give it to me.

About Claire St. Amant

Claire St. Amant, one of Editor & Publisher's Top 25 Under 35 in the newspaper industry, is a graduate of Baylor University. Claire was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine and has also lived in South America. She has written for a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle, and D Magazine.