This story was inspired both by something a rather infamous Seattle-based pastor said about nagging wives and by these two cartoons by Naked Pastor. Please don’t blame NP; he’s a really nice guy, and it’s not his fault his artwork made my mind go there.
Terrie snagged the mail on her way into the house. She threw it on the table and grabbed herself a glass of water before returning to the dining room to sift through the pile of magazine offers and take-out menus. The postcard halfway into the pile caught her attention and she set it aside to show Bill when he came home from work.
At dinner, Terrie passed her husband the postcard. He examined it thoughtfully. “Well,” he said before pausing to take a bite of his chicken. “We haven’t found a church since we moved here. Maybe we should give this one a try.”
“Any church that doesn’t shy away from sensitive subjects can’t be all bad, right?” Terrie grinned at Bill.
“Definitely. We’ll keep it in mind. If we don’t find someplace else we’d prefer to try, this will probably give us the best impression of what they’re all about.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Terrie agreed.
The postcard had given Terrie the impression that there was no need to dress up, so, clad in their jeans and casual button-down shirts, she and Bill entered the angular brick building that Sunday. A well-coiffed man in khakis and an ocean blue polo greeted them at the door.
“Welcome! Glad you could join us today,” he said. When he smiled, Terrie half expected the light to glint charmingly off his very white teeth.
“Um, thanks,” Bill said, attempting a manly grin.
Terrie and Bill were swept into the sanctuary with the rest of the crowd. Apparently, a whole lot of people were just as curious as they were about love, sex, and marriage. Terrie took that as a good sign; at least they didn’t stick out as the creepy new people who just came for a lecture on keeping their private parts in check. They found seats and settled in for the service to begin.
There wasn’t anything particularly new or different about the church service. That didn’t bother Terrie—she figured that as long as the message was good, the rest didn’t matter all that much. She’d never had any special attachment to a style of music or a form of liturgy. She relaxed, enjoying the familiarity of singing contemporary praise songs along with the rest of the congregation.
When the pastor began to speak, Terrie concentrated on his words. He was explaining that although many women did not intend to expose too much of their bodies, most did so inadvertently anyway.
The pastor said, “Ladies, when you dress like that, it’s distracting. All we can see is your body!”
Terrie squirmed a little. She had never considered the possibility that her body might be a source of struggle for anyone else. After all, wasn’t it her body? She glanced over at Bill, wondering what he was thinking. She was surprised to see that he was looking at her, a puzzled expression on his face.
She leaned in and whispered, “What’s wrong?”
He shook his head. “Uh…nothing.” He averted his gaze.
Terrie sat back in her seat. Something felt a little off to her. She shifted uncomfortably, and as she did so, she noticed that she had forgotten to fasten the top button of her shirt. That must have been what had thrown Bill off. Discreetly, she reached her hand up to slide the button back into place. It wouldn’t budge. She risked a glance downward and saw that it was because the fabric wouldn’t draw together. Since when had this shirt been too tight? It hadn’t felt that way when she’d put it on, had it? She frowned. The shirt was brand-new; it must have shrunk in the wash. She sighed. Obviously she would have to be more careful when she washed her clothes. She turned her attention back to the pastor, who was concluding with some advice for women that they should be careful about maintaining modesty.
After one last song, everyone was dismissed. Terrie stood up and looked around. Being in a new church was always a little awkward. She never felt quite comfortable enough to introduce herself, but she also didn’t care for the feeling of being stalked for recruitment, either. It was usually better to make the first move.
Just as Terrie was about to mingle, Bill grabbed her arm. “Let’s just go,” he said.
Confused, Terrie nodded. Strangely, it seemed like a fair number of other couples were feeling the same way. Terrie followed Bill out of the sanctuary. She remembered that she was a little exposed, due to her button mishap. She felt a tingle of embarrassment creep down her scalp.
She was momentarily distracted by the people walking past her. She realized she needn’t have worried; it looked like it was the official Sunday for wearing slightly-too-tight blouses. Terrie shrugged and let Bill lead her out to their car.
Once they were home, Terrie asked Bill what had him so riled up. He coughed.
“It’s just—that outfit you’re wearing. You look really good.”
Terrie laughed. “That’s all? Hm.” She leaned in. “Maybe I should take it off.”
“Maybe you should,” Bill agreed. “I don’t know what you did differently, but I just can’t take my eyes off you.”
Still laughing, Terrie grabbed Bill’s hand and led him upstairs.
The following week, they decided to give the church another try. Terrie hadn’t been sure, but Bill had suggested they give it a few weeks before making their decision.
“I don’t know,” Terrie said. “There’s just something a little…odd, I guess, about that church.”
“Come on. Let’s just wait and see.” He thought for a moment. “It’s probably just that we feel uncomfortable with the topic. It doesn’t come up in church that often, you know?”
“Maybe you’re right. Fine, I’ll give it another shot.”
Once again, Terrie and Bill were caught up in the crowd and funneled into the sanctuary. After the worship set concluded, the pastor took his place to preach. Apparently, having addressed the women the previous week, this time the pastor was giving the men their due. He was discussing the problem of lust and explaining how it could destroy a man and his marriage.
“Guys, you are letting your thoughts control you. You need to get a handle on your lust.” The pastor thumped his fist on the lectern.
Terrie smirked a little. Apparently, men were prone to thinking about sex all the time—including in church. She was just suppressing a snicker when she caught a look at Bill out of the corner of her eye. He was shifting in his seat and looking distinctly uncomfortable. Terrie raised her eyebrows, but she said nothing. As she turned her eyes back to the pastor, she noticed that quite a lot of the men were adjusting their bodies. She felt her cheeks heat up. It was one thing to know that her own husband was finding it hard to suppress his reactions; it was entirely different to feel like she’d suddenly been deposited in a room full of thirteen-year-old boys. She concentrated harder on listening to the rest of the sermon.
By the time the band started playing, Bill was begging Terrie to leave a little early. She took in his flushed face and, with a quick peek southward, she decided it was probably for the best. The good news was that they would probably barely be in the door before they would be all over each other. Regardless of whatever else the church had to offer, attendance certainly had its perks.
When the third week rolled around, Terrie was certain Bill wouldn’t want to return to that particular church. He proved her wrong, however, by suggesting that they stick it out until the end of the series. He thought the pastor had some “interesting points,” as he put it. Terrie shrugged. She didn’t really care. The pastor wasn’t actually saying anything she hadn’t heard before; he was just doing it in a way that made people significantly more embarrassed. Or turned on; whatever.
The message was different that week. The official sex talk over with, the pastor had turned to marriage. Terrie was a little bored; it wasn’t anything new. According to this week’s sermon, men were experiencing leadership failure in their homes. They were either lax, allowing their wives to pick up the slack, or they were obsessively controlling. Terrie made a face. She and Bill didn’t seem to have any difficulty with that. As far as she could recall, they’d never even discussed it.
“Men, you lead your homes like cavemen!” the pastor shouted.
Terrie snorted. That was a decidedly silly image. She wasn’t even sure what it meant. Her mind wandered to an image of Bill dragging her by her hair and thumping things with a giant club. She stifled a giggle.
After the previous two weeks, Terrie had hoped they might stay for a bit after church. Everyone (Terrie and Bill included) always seemed to be in such a rush to escape after the service ended. Terrie was beginning to wonder if they even bothered with coffee hour. At least this time everyone’s hormones seemed to be under wraps. Terrie blamed the previous weeks on the topic; frank discussions about sex were bound to lead to at least some frantic groping, right?
As they stood around making small talk, Terrie became aware that there was something subtly off about the men. The lighting was rather dim, so she couldn’t be sure, but they all appeared to be hunched over a bit. And their faces—they just looked, well, strange, for lack of a better word. She wasn’t having any trouble carrying on a conversation with the other women, but the men were just standing around. Every now and again, one of them would grunt something she didn’t quite catch. Oddly, none of the other women seemed bothered by this.
By the time they made their way out to the parking lot, Terrie was glad to be out of there. She waited for Bill to unlock the car, but he was just standing there, seemingly incapable of figuring out what to do. Terrie huffed.
“Bill, can you open the door? I’d like to go home.”
He turned toward her, and she saw that he, too, looked wrong somehow. He said, “Huh?”
“Never mind,” she replied. “Just give me the keys. I’ll drive.” She snatched the keys out of his hands and propelled him toward the passenger side. With a shake of her head, she opened his door and waved at him to get in. She hoped whatever was wrong with Bill would wear off by the time they got home.
Terrie and Bill had agreed to stick it out at church until the end of the series. Even so, she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to. She knew Bill was having second thoughts as well, but he thought they should give it one last chance. By that point, Terrie didn’t care one way or another.
They were halfway through the sermon on wives being submissive to their husbands before the realization hit Terrie. She inhaled sharply and looked over at Bill. The same thought must have occurred to him simultaneously.
The pastor had just said, “I was listening to a fellow pastor speaking this week. He was just saying how irritating it can be when a wife constantly nags her husband, a lot like a …”
Terrie and Bill looked at each other. “We need to leave now,” she said.
Bill didn’t even question it. Quietly, they stood from their seats and slipped out of the sanctuary. When the doors had closed on whatever it was the pastor had been about to say, they both sighed with relief. They took a moment to lean against a wall and collect themselves.
“You know, Bill,” Terrie said, closing her eyes briefly, “I don’t think this is the church for us after all.”
“I think you may be right. Next week, let’s try to find one that doesn’t take everything so literally.”
He laced his fingers with hers and, swinging their joined hands between them, they left the church building.