|Courtesy of mattstone.blogs.com|
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.