My People

My People
My matched set of grandchildren - Oliver and Cosette

Friday, June 26, 2009

I defy you to define me

I just had the strangest and most frustrating meeting with a client that I have had in a very long time. This will serve as a reinforcement of the rule to never discuss religion or politics in business. My client relocated here last summer from Austin, Texas. She is single. She moved here to be closer to family – in her case her ailing mother and her brother.

She indicated that she felt ostracized and unaccepted in what she called our narrow minded, small town environment. I replied that my experiences here had been quite different – that I felt more a part of this community than anywhere else I had ever lived.

I told her that I also moved here to be near family. That I arrived basically homeless and penniless and that by the grace of God and the generosity of the community, I had been able to settle and find a great sense of belonging.

She talked about being rejected by the church and how the churches here are established just as a social club and don’t care anything about the people in their community. I told her how precious my church had been to me, how loving, accepting… she insisted that my acceptance was based on nepotism, that if not for my brother that I would be ostracized too. I disagreed.

She said that the church only served those who look and believe just like them. I disagreed there too… my church has embraced the task of missions in our community, our country and our world… everything from holding carnivals in Helen to building churches in Nevada to holding Vacation Bible School in Kenya.

She said that our only reason for missions is to try to force people to believe what we believe. That if we really cared about people that we would go into their world and try to learn what we can from them. I have never been out into the mission field in the sense of going into deepest darkest Africa but I have faced my own mission field and I can only speak from my heart. I share what I believe because I believe it’s life for a dying world. I feel like the whole world has a cancer and I have the only cure. I share because it would be selfish not to. If you truly believe what you believe, how can you not share?

And I have always learned from every person I’ve ever tried to reach out to. I learn by observation. I learn by listening. I learn by loving. I learn by sharing my experiences and having others share theirs. I don’t think I know more, I just know what works for me. I don’t try to save the world. I just try to put bandaids on whatever booboos show up in my playground.

She said that she has learned to “lay it on the line” from the very beginning… that she immediately tells people that she’s not from around here and offers to move on if they can’t deal with that. I also tell people that I’m not from around here but I never assume that is a bad thing. I’ve gotten the occasional, “who are your people” inquiry but I find that charming and quaint. I am not threatened by it. I certainly don’t throw down the gauntlet of “take me or leave me” in the first conversation. Who wants to be bothered under such demands?

She said, “people instantly judge me because I’m not from around here” and I said, “you instantly judged me and my church… to think that because my brother being pastor is the only reason they accepted me.” She agreed. I said, “what if people just accepted me because I’m nice. Or friendly. Or engaging. Or what if they accepted me because they’re friendly, compassionate people?”

I accept a few truths – one, that many churches are elitist and that in many cases organized religion does more to harm the cause of Christ than the devil ever could. I know it’s hard to walk into a church and make yourself vulnerable and hope for acceptance. I know that many of the people who need church most are too broken to walk in alone – whether it’s a brother or a sister-in-law or a friend – I know that having someone with you helps immensely.

I also know that usually the world is a mirror. People give back the attitude you put out there. Nobody wants to befriend a surly and bitter person.

Prejudice means prejudging – it’s not specific to color or sexual orientation. Many times prejudice is narrowing your own world by the assumption that others have a narrow view themselves. I’m a twice divorced, Evangelical Christian who leans to the political right. I listen to Rush Limbaugh and believe in God and think that big government is big trouble. I love showtunes and old hymns and contemporary Christian music. My best friend is a gay man. I’m the best aunt ever. I’m lousy at correspondence. I never pay my bills on time. I don’t make enough money. I drive a five year old car that’s not yet paid for and I live in a rented place. I attend a First Baptist church in a small town and I sit on the second row every week in the same spot right next to my sister in law and my pastor’s daughter who happens to have downs syndrome. She sings off key and so do I. I am short and overweight and have long naturally curly hair. I have strong beliefs but I don’t fit any stereotype and I defy you to define me.

I get really aggravated at people who think themselves liberal and open minded yet they have the belief that if you don’t believe like them that you’re wrong. Open minded means accepting my views of the world too.

I thanked her for the conversation, invited her to come to church with me and wished her luck.


moshell's lilbit of space said...

As an "outsider" myself to a small town community I have a view point on this as well.

Yes small town living has it's perks, but also does have it's negativity too.

My negativity has been few & far between & usually by people who have preconceived ideas of who I am before even trying to get to know me first. That is is their mistake. Just because I was not born & raised here, doesn't mean I don't love living here. Just because I have tattoo's doesn't define who I am as a person inside.

The perks....everyone knows everyone & who they belong too. I don't worry about my children getting into trouble here so much as I did in the city. The schools are great, the extra curricular events are spectacular, and as a community we HELP eachother, whoever may need it.

I myself go to church, a southern, separate baptist church...and I didn't know a soul there, and grew up in the Catholic church. I could NEVER EVER ask for better friends/family then each one there. I too sit in the 2nd row, sometimes with my children, sometimes without. Sometimes with my husband, sometimes without. But these are the people that pray, love & support me, my family, eachother and our community without question.

I totally agree with you Heather....define me (well you)

much love-

Missie said...

Have a good weekend.

Anonymous said...

You have to open your heart and your mind in order to receive a blessing and it sounds like this lady has had both closed too long. It's hard to be accepted into any community if you don't want to be accepted.

Linda said...

Sounds like this lady is carrying a very heavy chip on her shoulder, and I'm guessing that's what's turning people off, not the fact that she's "different." Why start off with a negative statement the first time she meets someone? How about a smile and maybe some positive words about her new community? She sounds like her own worst enemy. Linda in VA

Myra said...

She was the person she despised in others. Ironic huh...look in the mirror, lady! This was just another opportunity for you to share your experiences and be used as His instrument to speak your truth.