Word of the Week

There are some moments of your life that you simply waste. Minus having this blog to write, I could say this about my television viewing experience last night watching the pilot episode of the ABC drama, "GCB."

It's a satirical drama set in the city of Dallas, TX well set within themes of southern culture and religion. Fellow blogger and colleague, Alan Rudnick, wrote a great summary post about its plot and what the title GCB actually stands for. I would suggest that you check out his blog.

Of course being interested in all things religious and also a native of the South, I agreed to watch GCB via request of my husband, Kevin. Kevin loves being in the know about new television shows and movies and couldn't wait to check GCB out. I didn't think I was going to like it, but with my supportive, "I want to spend time with you" wife hat on, I took it all in.

I only made it through 30 minutes of this one hour show before I was off to do something else. Simply stated: Christians according to GCB are hypocritical, sacrilegious, back-biting and frequently do works of charity out of fear of "not looking the part" among their church friends. It reminded a lot of the feature film from several years ago, Saved (which I can only watch in small chunks).

Alan, in his post talks about how many Christians will have a problem with GCB because of the language and the behavior and the type of Christian culture it portrays (I can't imagine how much hate mail ABC executives are getting right now from right wingers). Alan takes a positive stance and suggests that the presence of a show like GCB on the air is a chance for Christians "to laugh through satire when Christians miss the mark." And, I guess if you don't laugh, you cry, so laughing might be a good exhortation here!

And while, yes I am a fan of satire and not taking one's self too seriously (appropriate uses of humor are always good, I'm with you Alan on this one), I have to say that I was saddened by GCB because I felt so much of the show IS TRUE. In my imagination, I can easily see such characters not as fictional but as real people who can be found in the upper to middle class sections of Dallas as well as other places across the Bible Belt. While the entire South is not ultra conservative, white, evangelical, and closed-minded-- many residents within seem to still live in a cultural bubble. And, their churches and their church leaders to which they cling for council seem to give them permission to isolate themselves as they wish.

The South is a place where one's religion or lack their of is tied to one's identity. A typical church gathering, in many settings can contain a person quoting scripture in one breath and lying, cheating or gossiping in the next. Consider this personal example: I attended a Baptist college in Birmingham, AL and a typical Sunday morning for most students at Samford University, in my experience, included either a) going to church or b) pretended that they went to church even if they didn't by dressing up to go to brunch at the cafeteria. Unless you wanted to be known as one of the campus heathens, you'd fix your hair, put on nice make-up and your Sunday shoes for lunch on Sunday-- no matter where you spent your morning. I called the whole thing "plastic Christianity." It was gross.

It's not that I don't believe that Christians don't miss the mark and that we shouldn't laugh at ourselves. (I miss the mark and find reasons to laugh at myself almost every day!).And I don't want to come across as a hater of the South, because I'm not. I look forward to visiting family and friends in the South and enjoying its unique charms when I can. But, what concerns me most is the land of denial that we live in as people of faith when we see shows like GCB and don't recognize the deeper problems in American society as we've unashamedly wed religion, culture and politics. And, I grieve the lack of clergy leadership among my colleagues in NOT calling our "church culture" problems into the light.

This is what I know about faith: 

Faith has always been about a real relationship with God in the day in and day out moments of our lives: not a relationship we get from just showing up on Sunday at services.

Faith has always been about actions that bring forth our inner convictions to world (read the book of James lately?) Faith without works is dead, after all.

Faith has always been about being in the world but not being of the world, so that people know we are Christians not by our hypocrisy but our love. Saying when we make mistakes, "I was wrong" but not making tv shows about how crazy we are. Why? Because we are aiming for a higher standard of discipleship.

Living out a life of faith is hard enough without filling my brain space with images of the type of Christians that irritate me the most. Chilling out by watching tv can be a relaxing way to spend an evening, but not when the show hits too close to home no matter how many good actors and actresses are in it. All I know is that GCB is not for me. (Rant over).

I was raised in the South. I went to college in Alabama. I attended seminary in North Carolina. I learned to eat fried chicken at church potlucks and hymn sings. I was given pearls for my high school graduation. I studied BBQ in its various forms in my Southern History class in college.  I learned "cola" as "Coke" for it was the only soft drink that you ever drank. I was as Southern as you come . . . accent included.

The pace of life, the readiness of religious opportunities, and the cheap cost of living make the southern part of the United States a wonderful place to grow up and to settle down. I always thought I would attend seminary and return to Alabama to live for the rest of my life.

But, not until I left the South via my first job posting in Maryland (and I know several of you would argue that Maryland is still the South, but for argument sake it isn't Mississippi), did I begin to realize the deep tensions remaining in this part of the country: how broken this region still is over race in more ways than just having "bad sides of town" and "low-income schools." Racial stereotypes are woven in how everyone seems to relate to one another. And, I knew that the life I wanted for myself-- rich in diversity-- would be easier to establish in an area of the country like Washington DC.

How easy I forget, though, how spoiled I have become until I make journeys down south to catch up with friends and family from time to time.  Not that the Mid-Atlantic region is perfect, by any means, but it is easier to make friends here of different cultures, races, and traditions as if it is no big deal. Easily I can begin to think that race and nationality are descriptors that just don't apply anymore. Yet, last week, I learned again in Georgia and Tennessee, that our DC life is not the norm.

When folks are described in every day conversation it seems that no one is described without referring to the color of their skin.

When folks of a different color of skin are mentioned, there is a change in facial expression, body language and tone of voice when speaking of this person.

Certain activities are associated with racial groups. I heard it said in the line in at the movie theater by a Caucasian child talking to her Caucasian mother, "I don't want to see that movie. It's a black person film."  I heard it said, "That mall is so ghetto. If you drive by that part of town keep your doors locked."

In all of this, I was sobered to think about the world view of  my nieces and nephews have and will continue to have are based on unfair biases. Thinking that ALL persons of certain racial groups are somehow less than them because their skin is darker.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the real issue in rural southern USA is not race, but what race has meant for the lack of educational and economic opportunities. And, these lack of opportunities continue to oppress.

While interacting with several of Kevin's former high school classmates at his reunion party, I realized that the persons from his class who had been "more successful" in moving away to bigger cities, receiving high education, and maintaining well-paid jobs were Caucasian. I don't think that this is because color of skin has anything to do with intelligence, but  because of how environmental factors have diminished opportunities for those with darker skin, Hispanic and African-American alike. And, as a result of these lack of educational and economic opportunities, social tensions were created in an multi-racial gathering of this particular party i.e. the African-American persons had more things in common to talk to one another about not because of their "blackness" but because of their type of jobs, housing and life ambitions.

And so at this particular party, the social dynamics were less about desire to get to know someone who shared different physical features from you (because this didn't seem to be the issue)  and more about not having anything to talk about with someone who was from a different racial group.  Segregation occurred in more complex ways than first observed.

Do you see how this cycle of racism lives? It overwhelms and frightens me.  And, I understand how easily these social patterns of relating to one another will continue and continue for a very long time unless the church both in the South and in other parts of the country, among other social justice groups, seek to address the disparity of this issue right on. Saying, it is not ok to identify your neighbor on the bus, in the grocery store, or who fixes your tv, by their race. It's just not ok, ever. And, it is not ok for my child to go to school with books that are new and your child not to simply because of the part of town in which they live. It's not ok for the church to sit on the sidelines and do nothing to speak of the segregation race still seeks to cause.

Of course it is easier to speak of the disparities of lifestyle by race, saying, "It's what the Mexicans do" or "It's where the black people hang out" or "Our town is so white" but really in the end, it's not about race as much as it about what life has offered us. This fact, I believe needs to be more clearly understood.

I for, one, was glad to be back on my street of diversity a couple of days ago, to be in conversations where the fact that a family is Indian or Asian or whatever doesn't really matter. But, I came back with eyes open to new prayers I have for the great human family and the children who grow up not being taught by their parents, teachers and pastors any better. Praying as Jesus did on the night before his death: "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-- so that they may be one as I am one with you."