Last weekend we hosted an Open House and invited about 45 Holly Springs folks. Althought it wasn't "that kind of party," a number of guests brought housewarming gifts. Isn't it curious how a gift often says more about the giver than the recipient?
Ms. F's gift was a pair of faux wood oval plaques with matching ornate display stands. The plaques each bore a line of scripture. I only remember the one that I found especially provocative: "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." To my credit, I did not immediately erupt. Instead, I thanked her (sincerely) for the kind gesture and complimented the attractiveness of the wrapping.
Then I excused myself and made another bowl of champagne punch (Note: I knew from the moment I spotted the recipe on allrecipes.com that I would mix the punch. Many on the guest list are "religious non-drinkers" so depending on who showed up, I might have to drink the whole thing alone...)
Later, I was seated near her for a few minutes and I told her that I appreciated her good intention.
I told her that I am not Christian, as in wearing that label as part of my Human Personality uniform.
while the plaques are undeniably charming but I do not "serve the Lord."
I told her I believe that believers and non-believers can coexist peacefully.
Then -- and I know
I could have just stopped talking. That's what you're thinking.
But I didn't stop talking. Last year the city drafted a Master Plan in response to a perceived surge in public support for a focused, intensive "revitalization" effort. This is part of the reason I moved here four months ago from the San Francisco Bay area. I shared with Ms. F some of my impressions and experiences in the community since my arrival. I told her that while people here, overall, have been hospitable and welcoming, religious belief is touted and assumed with an intensity I've not encountered anywhere else. I suggested that some newcomers might find it offensive and oppressive and walk away from Holly Springs, perhaps in significant enough numbers to diminish the "revitalization" efforts.
She was defensive but gracious and remained in good humor. "Okay, okay... I have a better gift for you," she said. "I'll bring it by." The party went on from there with no less laughter and good spirits.
Today, 3 days later, Ms. F stopped by with the better gift: a plaque boasting a "Laundry Prayer"
I think it's all turned out very well. I am fond of Ms. F and she of me. When she stopped by this morning we had a visit marked with much laughter and talked about our upbringings -- hers in southern Mississippi and mine in southern Indiana.
I am convinced it's important for "non-believers" to be visible and vocal members of their communities. Our interactions with religious people don't have to be argumentative or volatile. In fact, it's important that we continue to learn ways to communicate peacefully across lines of differing opinion and belief.
There have been enough religious wars on the planet.