Tuesday, October 12, 2010

if i do what, i'll go where?

one day in art class as a seventh or eighth grader, i was busy not being good a painting a landscape when a girl of the southern baptist persuasion stopped by the table i was sharing with my friend of the hindu persuasion to share the good news with us. really she just wanted to share the good news with him - she knew i was probably okay, despite my presbyterian upbringing, since our parents were friends.

calmly and coolly, she shared that if he refused to accept jesus christ as his personal lord and savior, he would go straight to hell. without another word, she left to grab some more paint or another brush. she was, in her mind, a true messenger of the truth of christianity.

she was, in my mind, an idiot.

that day i started wondering why she, and others like her, were so sure about what happens after we die. it doesn't take long to figure it out. all you have to do is drive by rural churches like the one she attended and read their marquees. the "jokes" they put up there, tell a good portion of the story and explain why things seem so black and white in rural american religion even though life in rural america is an ever changing shade of gray.

i had the recent joy of driving through the appalachian mountains in southwestern virginia and northwestern north carolina on a trip to visit my parents and my grandfather. the town where my parents live is about 90 minutes in any direction from an interstate, so much of the drive was on two-lane highways that followed the curves of the mountains and spilled into the small towns that dot the region. a rough guess on my part is that there are as many churches in these towns as there are families who inhabit them, and thus a lot of drive time reading material.
(as a volunteer firefighter, i disagree stoney fork.)

"forbidden fruit makes lots of jams," said the first sign i saw. just down the road another church gave these instructions/warnings: "pray, believe, receive. pray, doubt, do without." not to be outdone, sometime later i drove past another wondering "is your prayer life well done or rare?"

seeing these reminded me of three others i had seen before moving from north carolina. the church my high school girlfriend attended at one point asked passers the question over on the left.

damn. tell me how you really feel next time. that shed a lot of light on the time she called me on a sunday and asked me what i was up to, and when i told her i'd just finished mowing the yard, she got silent in disbelief that i had worked on a sunday.

the next one, kindled hatred towards wizardry, saying "there's only one potter and his name isn't harry." i guess they're right, but harry seems like a decent name for god. i can trust a guy named harry, and with a name like that, he's probably good with his hands.

(this must be the remix no one ever heard.)

the all time best, however, came when i drove down to see my college roommate one break. just off the exit to his house, there was a church whose sign read, and i kid you not, "turn or burn." can't knock 'em for b.s. that's just straight to the point.

and that's when it hit me. these signs are an attempt to boil down the completely unexplainable questions of life into something we can use. for so long, i'd thought they were legitimate attempts to welcome people or encourage others to come visit. maybe they did that, too, but there is no part of me that is willing to believe that is the main purpose. rural churches aren't generally looking to expand. they're looking to survive.

like i said, life is a shade of gray in rural america. for those that farm, there's the constant worry about how good the harvest will be. for those in more touristy places, there's always the dependence upon visitors and enough snow for the skiiers, enough sun for the tanners, and enough color for the leaf lookers. so much is out of the hands of those who live in rural america, especially those whose livelihood depends upon the land.

and when you're livelihood is up in the air, the last thing you want is for your soul to join it. so while i may never agree that it's turn or burn or that doubt leads to loss, i can at least understand the roots of these pithy little statements and just laugh to myself. i'll even enjoy the humor in some of them because i know my dad would double over in genuine laughter at some of them, though they're no funnier than michael scott's email forwards.

but i'll never get why a trip to the paint shelf seemed like a great opportunity for a sermon.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

dudes do things dudes do

there are lots of elements at work in transitioning from living in a city of millions to town of several hundred. there's the size adjustment, the time it takes to get somewhere to eat or drink adjustment, and the actually getting to know and like your neighbors adjustment (both of which we have done) to name a few. but there's one i'd forgotten about.

more so than anywhere else, i think men in rural places live into masculine stereotypes. i'd even argue that they set the curve. i mean, who sets that curve better than this guy? no one.

for those that know me, i'm not exactly the most macho dude. sure i love sports, meat and (thanks to elizabeth and terry at the woodshop) i'm developing a woodworking habit, but after that my macho quotient takes a serious dive, at least comparatively to my perception of men in rural america. here's an assessment:

- i think i've shot one gun in my entire life. hunting is the sport of choice out here.
- i don't exactly have a demonstrative personality nor do i think only wives should submit to their husbands.
- i learned how to drive a stick not because it was macho, but because it saves gas, or so i was told.
- oh, and i can operate a washing machine and an iron with relative ease.

however, in addition to my love of sports and meat and my aspirations to be norm from the new yankee workshop, i do have one other thing going for me. i own a truck.

trucks are masculinity shaped in metal and put on wheels. as you might imagine, that's not the reason i got mine, but i'll embrace it. i got mine so i could move my stuff easily. emphasis on my.
so it came as a big surprise to me that as we were driving home the other day, i told elizabeth how glad i was to have a truck. there have been roughly zero days in the last few years that i have been glad to have a truck.

you see, i made a firm decision about a year ago, that i would only offer my moving services to others in the most dire of situations after a friend asked for some help and proceeded to show up late and completely unprepared for the impending rain. it was somewhere between lifting his desk, complete with his snot storage area, and having a tarp tossed to me to cover his belongings while he got inside another car and left, that i told myself i would never do this out of the sheer goodness of my heart ever again. i consider myself a giving a person, but i have to draw a line somewhere. i only wish I had done so before picking up a handful of dried boogers.

but here in the land of stereotypical masculinity, i am thankful that i have a truck because even though i work with my hands, there's a keyboard at the end of them, not a backhoe. it's easy to remain on the outside in rural america if you've just moved in (or out depending how you look at it). there's a culture in a rural america that emphasizes one's history in the community, but that's a different topic for a different time. owning a truck just might be my first correct answer on my insider's application.

so i drive proudly to the fire station in my beat-up, little truck and know that at least i'm not that guy writes for a living and drives a miata. i enjoy the first part, but if the second were true, i'd walk around town knowing that, in the spirit of stereotypical masculinity, they'd be thinking there's a little something off about that new guy, isn't there?

on the other hand, it might be a fun experiment...in time.

dog the bounty hunter from here, truck by boone.

rural image of the day...