Wednesday, July 8, 2009
No do not be fooled we don’t need these things Don’t be slaves to the hardtack, sugar or the coffee or the Bacon fat Won’t give our hearts away Not for that Not today --RCPM, “Buffalo” There are a few things that came up during the Four Days in July that I wanted to write about but didn’t have time. The big one was a series by Greg Laden over on his blog about various run-ins he had with missionaries while doing field work in Africa. It’s quite eye-opening. I, like probably every Christian, had the occasional run-in with missionaries. They’d show up at church looking for further support for their work. Generally they’d brings slides of all the people they were working with and let us know how many people they were reaching with the gospel. Now that I’m all grown up I even know a few people who have spent time or are currently working “in the field,” as it were. Truth be told I usually didn’t like the missionary visits. I can’t really say why. I, like everybody, pretty much assumed they were out doing good. I don’t think I ever felt particularly pressured to give them money, so either it wasn’t a hard sell or I was somewhat immune. What I think I resented about the missionary visits was the sense that they were somehow spiritually better, or at least more advanced, than the rest of us. They sacrificed a lot to go overseas and actually do the work the Bible said we were all supposed to be doing. It’s a weird idea, now that I think about it. There were (or are, I guess) the spiritual haves and have-nots. Those of us who didn’t give up the comforts of home to go to deepest, darkest Africa or wherever simply didn’t stack up. Seeing the perspective of an American who went to Africa specifically to see how Africans lived is fascinating. It’s also not particularly surprising to realize that the assumptions made by the people sitting in pews listening to sales pitches from first world missionaries who saw the rest of the world as the outer darkness filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth would get the wrong impression. Christians in general and American Christians in specific base their knowledge of the world on assumption and prejudice. Generally that’s the sort of thing that I gloss over and say, “Well, they just don’t have enough knowledge,” but the truth is most Christians simply don’t want to know. They’re perfectly content to be ignorant as long as it suits their world view that the world is a horrible place that would be okay if it just had more Jesus. I find ignorance somewhat forgivable as long as there’s a desire to learn more. Willful ignorance, on the other hand, gets no quarter from me. It’s like when I was working with an international campus ministry. Ah, hell, I’ve danced around it. But there’s no reason for me to protect its identity. I spent nearly a year as the Outreach Coordinator for the WIU chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. All in all it was an experience that ranged from “not really fun” to “downright horrible.” I knew of IV before I joined up They run a big missions conference on the U of I campus every year (or every other year, I forget) called “Urbana.” I went about ten years ago and was treated to a week of self-serving meetings. Seriously, I don’t remember being impressed. I slept through most of the optional stuff and mostly recall the big convocations for the fact that they put the really annoying worship band in video up on the jumbotron at U of I’s Assembly Hall and put the actual words of the song in a nearly illegible font on the bottom sixth of the screen. However, on the last night when they asked people to commit to doing overseas missions I stood up. I don’t fucking know why. I didn’t want to do missions then and the desire didn’t show up in the six or so years between then and my departure from Christianity. It was probably that old sense that not doing (or at least saying I wanted to do) overseas missions meant I wasn’t a very good Christian. Either way, when I got to IV at WIU I found out that they’re big on multicultural outreach. Now, on the face of it I have no real problem with multiculturalism. It can be an effective cure for ignorance, after all. I just think it’s better if multiculturalism is approached with a sense of mutual respect. When it’s all just a pretext for sharing your own narrow religious views then multiculturalism is a net negative. Especially in a group where there was exactly one non-white, non-Midwestern (wait, check that. She was from Chicago. But, hey, she wasn't white...) person and everyone was allowed to talk about multicultural outreach as a great thing without actually apparently doing it. Well, that’s not entirely true. I had a habit of hanging out with all different kinds of people. I also didn’t invite them to IV or try to share the gospel with them. I was, as I’ve said many times before, a lousy Outreach Coordinator. I like to count that as a good thing these days… Meanwhile, though, there was the step beyond the net negative. It was decided at some point during my tenure as Outreach Coordinator that IV (I believe the regional IV group) was going to have a white culture event/meeting/thingy. I was appalled. I was especially pissed that I had to have a role in promoting it, since it was decided in one of the Executive Team meetings that we’d be in charge of the promotion. As I recall, the rest of the team did a really stupid skit and I was supposed to come out and give the sales pitch. I had a terrible cold or fever or flu or something that night to begin with and, as I said, hated everything about the idea. So I walked out, said something to the effect of, “We’re white, we have culture, go to this thing,” and got the hell off the stage. And the more I think about it, that wasn’t a paraphrase. I mean, what the hell is “white culture?” I get that it’s possible to make the mistake that you can have an “African” culture and a “Latin American” culture if you’re a dumbass white person living in Macomb, Illinois who’s only met three people from farther away than Rockford. But for the love of crap they should be able to get that there’s no such thing as “white culture.” There’s Swedish and British and Ukrainian and Russian and Spanish and Italian and Irish culture. There’s even American culture. And within those groups there are hundreds or thousands of sub-groups delineated by geography, religion, age, popular entertainment, interest in causes, and any number of things that I can’t even begin to think about right now. Missions work is a form of cultural imperialism. Sure, in some cases it does a bit to a lot of good. But from reading Greg Laden’s Blog I get the impression that it does more harm. So go read the stories if you get the chance. It started here. But that was just a teaser from nearly two years ago. Less interesting than the Blues Brothers... Mmm. Beer. When researchers adopt a missionary position. The Great White Douchebag. Don't have a dog-related pun. But at least there's more douchbaggery... The other side of my church propaganda. Apparently they're anti-Semitic, too. Hooray! Real-life internet trolls. Who knew? Discussion of secular missions. Meanwhile, I’ve found that storytelling is a fantastic way to get a taste of multiculturalism. And with storytellers there’s a genuine attempt to actually share the culture from within. So if you do happen to be one of those white people who needs a multicultural kick in the pants, find a storyteller. I'd especially recommend Linda Gorham, Antonio Sacre, Tim Tingle, or In the Spirit should you notice any of them are in your area. In other news, I'm also working up to a post about Hell. I thought I'd be able to shoehorn it in to this one or my Sabbath one from yesterday, but it hasn't happened yet. It's weird to be reconsidering these ideas at this point in my life. But I think it's a good thing. I'm gradually pulling away from the thoughts and stories about how Christianity hurt me in to the bigger ideas and why they don't make any sense. It's all a part of the ongoing healing process, I guess. And, um, not to be schmaltzy, thanks to all who have taken the time to wander through my journey with me. It's been an interesting ride and every time I think it's coming to a close something new comes up. Also, I recently found out that "schmaltz" is rendered chicken or pig fat that's used for cooking and sometimes served as a condiment. I'm not sure how that got turned in to a word that means "excessively sentimental." Language is weird, especially where Yiddish and English interface.