Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Life in the Bible Belt

Sometimes, the Bible belt is a weird, weird place. (This is going to be a spiritual blog topic. You've been forewarned.)


Courtesy of mattstone.blogs.com
I grew up in the Northeast, a place that perfectly illustrates the image of America as a melting pot. The Northeast isn't perfect, but it influenced the way I approach life, and I have a fondness for coastal, Northern, Eastern things like great Italian restaurants, lively parties, the ocean, stone walls built from the stones that you dig up every time you work in the dirt, thickly wooded areas, blunt honesty, sincere laughter, and plenty of non-Christians to liven up a conversation, spiritual or not.


Almost daily, I am reminded that I wasn't born in the Bible belt, and that even though I've lived here seven years, I still don't "get" some of the culture here. Truthfully, I don't want to "get" it either. There are some weird attitudes about life here in the Bible belt.


For one thing, I don't think I've ever met so many people obsessed with conspiracies, political machinations, and judgmental attitudes as I've found in the Bible belt. Maybe I was just fortunate not to see this much back East. Or maybe there are so many people in the Northeast that you just get a large variety of opinions by default. But where I am now, the ideas often seem Xeroxed. It's hard to find a variety of opinions here. There's a lot of lockstepping instead.


Even worse, many people here echo Rush Limbaugh and Ann Colter. It's okay to listen to what you want to listen to. But it is not okay to spit out what you've just heard to everyone else (I mean, ME). There's a reason I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh. And in fairness, I don't listen to Al Franken either. Rabid hate-mongering, complaining, and blaming is of no interest to me, whether it's left or right.


The Bible belt is also home to many doom-and-gloom messages. Perhaps this is because the people here are extremely focused on Bible passages like the book of Revelation, which is about the time in which Jesus will return. It's going to be an ugly time, with all manner of wars, natural disasters, social problems, anti-God messages, and a lack of spirituality. First-century Christians thought it was describing their time under the oppressive Roman emperors. Christians in 2011 think it is describing today. And maybe it is. 


But since the Bible makes it clear that humanity's sin will continue to lead us in a downward spiral in many ways, I don't see how negativity helps anyone find the way out. The Bible's central message is that there is hope in the midst of the downward spiral. His name is Jesus. We all have to decide what we're going to do with Him and what He's done for us. As a Christian, I firmly believe it would be much better to spend my time talking about Jesus and the hope we have in Him, especially when I'm talking with people who need hope. How is it that so many Christians in the Bible belt talk more about the problems than the solution? I find this troubling.


It's even more troubling when I think about the us versus them mentality that seems to pervade the culture of the Bible belt. This isn't only found among Christians here; it seems to be cultural. A friend (who is Native American) and I (a dark-haired, curvy Italian gal) went to a town of about 18,000 people not too long ago. It's a town touted for its museums, antiquing, shopping... In other words, not a little hitching post town with 300 people all related to one another. It's large enough to be open to others, especially since they advertise to bring visitors in. Yet when my friend and I went to a popular local restaurant there, we were practically shunned. It's the only time I've ever felt like maybe I wasn't "white enough" to fit in. I can only imagine how much worse it was for my friend, who is a minority member. It's repellent, especially in 2011, to see that kind of disrespect for others, especially in a place supposedly focused on living like Jesus. Ugh.


The us versus them attitude extends into the Christian community in other ways. It's found in Christianese - terms that only Christians know, which is off-putting to anyone who is outside the group. Christianese leads to some really dumb ways of talking about things. A friend of mine overheard a Christian woman calling her children her "loinfruit." I guess this is a rephrasing of some Scripture verse about the fruit of someone's loins, but honestly, if I were a non-Christian, and I overheard that, I'd think the woman was clueless and self-centered to talk about her kids with a demeaning, dehumanizing term like that. I'd be so turned off. This seems a stupid way to handle conversations, especially since the goal is to find outsiders and bring them in, not keep them out. (Jesus kind of had a thing for outsiders. When we don't, we kind of don't seem like Jesus, do we?)


The us versus them attitude is also found in the clueless self-focus I've noticed in a lot of the Christian community. Like the conversation I heard in Starbucks among church members planning their church anniversary celebration. The focus was on things like how to do a great Powerpoint presentation of the church's history. Oh, and about what kind of potatoes to serve. And worst of all, what food would be better to have sitting and heating up in containers while the service went on. 


I thought, why not just make the service short and get right into the eating, so people could visit? Do you really have to preach that long on a special church day? If I were a guest at that service, I would have hated it. And if I were a member, the service and celebration would have turned into a day-long thing. Don't people already have enough to do on their short weekends? I don't begrudge the church its celebration. But I think the focus was so much on the church that it wasn't focused on the people who make up the church. (If you haven't noticed, Jesus cares more about people than about organizations. But I'm not even sure Jesus Himself was welcome at that church anniversary. He sure wasn't the focus of it.)


Ironically, it may be good that I live in the Bible belt right now. It's making me ask questions I never would have thought of asking when I lived in the Northeast, because the questions weren't relevant there. It's making me wonder how I, as a Christian, can make Jesus Christ seem appealing to those who don't know much about Him. It's not going to be the way the Bible belt does it. I suspect this image of Christians is why much of America doesn't want to talk about God and religion and church. It's hard to blame them. I often think if I were in their shoes, I wouldn't want to talk to Christians either.


There's a solution to this problem somehow... And it's found in being a lot more like the real Jesus, instead of the Jesus we've made up to suit our needs. Perhaps this is why I've been drawn to books like The Hole in Our Gospel and Imaginary Jesus. Christians like me need a relationship with the real Jesus, not a fake one. That's the only way anyone else will ever get to see the real Jesus, right? Through us. I think we owe that to our world.


What do you think? What is it that makes Jesus real to people? I'd love to hear from you about this whole topic, whether you're a Christian or not. In fact, the more viewpoints, the better. So feel free to share, no matter what you think and believe. I welcome your honesty. Thanks for stopping by today!


Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

4 comments:

  1. It’s funny how you say you don't understand the us vs them attitude but use the "We in the Northeast" vs "Those from the Bible belt" to explain it. (wink) Seriously though, as someone who is from “the belt”, I used to go to church and worked hard to be a "good Christian." Then, one day I took a step back to challenge everything I had learned and didn't like what I saw. Christians, and most other religions, are not encouraged to examine their beliefs. People are not encouraged to examine why they believe what they believe about anything. This isn't just about religion. Many people refuse to examine why they vote the way they do or fear the person who is different from themselves.
    I no longer sit in a pew each Sunday and let someone try to tell me how to think but I try not to judge people who do. Why should I? I don’t have all the answers. They don’t ether or they wouldn’t be going to church to “seek God.”
    The world has gone crazy with everyone wanting to take sides and force "those other people" to see things our way or else! Sex, race, religion, politics, nations. When you shove people into a box, it makes them no longer a person; they become one of "those" people and no longer deserve your respect. I don't care what color you are, what god you worship, who you voted for last election, or where you grew up. I try to treat each person as a person and give them respect until they give me a reason not to do so. I am not blind and don't see the world as a big rainbow. I am no saint. I have to fight the ideas I was fed in the past and I have to fight the labels that the so many want me to use now. It is a daily battle. It is my battle. It was lazy of me in the past to just put a label on everyone who does things different that I do. I have to work every day to see each person I meet as who they are and understand that they are also a product of their past. Maybe they have put me in a box and hate me because of their past. Maybe they think that something I think is important is stupid to them. Fine. I know that respect won’t solve all of the problems in the world, but it sure would be a good start to making the world a little better.
    Great post! I love a post that gives people a chance to stop and think.
    - Martin from Indiana

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  2. Martin, very well said! I smiled when you mentioned the Northeast vs. the Bible belt...and fully admit I get a little obnoxious about "we in the Northeast." Fair point! I do have my labels, too, don't I? :)

    It's a human tendency to enter into us vs. them thinking, isn't it? You raise good points that I didn't touch on in this post but that are absolutely true. Other religions don't typically encourage free-thinking either. And we don't like to examine our beliefs about politics and other things, either. This problem isn't limited to Christians, that's for sure.

    I don't know if I'd call it lazy to put labels on others. But I do think it's safe. I think we all like some degree of safety and comfort. Looking past labels is not safe and it can make us very uncomfortable. I guess I wish we'd risk that discomfort for the sake of making the world a little better. And yes, respect for others would be a good place to start.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! If you have a blog of your own, let me know. I'd love to check it out sometime.

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  3. I enjoy Christians of all walks, because they will either have something valuable to say that I had not considered, or will at least be amusing in their own brands of madness.

    I do find myself disgusted with Christians who mistreat people, because those two terms shouldn't even be in the same sentence. "Mistreated" can mean different things though. Scorn or the like, is a fine line between a loving rebuke and hurtful abuse, and much of the definition lies in how it is perceived and received by the one being rebuked.

    I do enjoy antagonizing fundamentalists, both with doctrine that blows shotgun holes in much of their outlook, to my off-kilter behavior when I so choose.

    I love Jesus, but I cannot help but notice how joyless and un-free many Christians are, and certainly, how judgmental they can be. I can take a rebuke, like a man, but beyond that, I do not cower to emotional shaming tactics or glaring eyes from those who have long forgotten what it is like to be in my shoes, and have felt "squared-away" for much too long.

    So many times, people should just show mercy and gratitude to those they don't like, rather than scorn. Seems like sometimes people get so immersed in church that they forget how to just talk like a normal person, and more so, how to talk to someone who is hurting or in trouble.

    For that reason, I will always be an outsider, a rogue who loves God, on the streets where God wants me.

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  4. Good points, Samuel. It seems so common to find people treating others badly or scornfully, doesn't it? I wonder if we let the scorn out because we don't know how to handle our own anger and frustration in ways that are healthy...

    I love that you're willing to be considered an outsider and a rogue, if that's what it takes to be where God wants you. It sounds like you're a happy and free Christian, and that's such a good thing. Happy for ya!

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