That’s life in the Bible Belt.

Dwellers therein, prepare to be offended.

Last week I spent a full day at the Kansas Leadership Center (one of the very few things Kansas gets right, mainly because it has absolutely no ties to the state government) for professional development. The topic of the day was “use of storytelling to motivate people in order to make progress on daunting challenges.” KLC is a non-profit organization, and works with people in all types of businesses, local governments, other non-profits, and faith-based institutions.

Each attendee spent the day creating, practicing, and telling stories of who we are and challenges we’ve faced. It became apparent pretty quickly that the use of story can be very powerful in situations where we want to work for change.

It also became apparent pretty quickly that the Bible Belt mentality makes me throw up in my mouth a little a lot.

In my small group of fifteen, half of the people stood up and told V-E-R-Y religious based stories. How Jesus changed my life. How I learned to trust God. How God saved me from disaster. I was there that day with a couple of my favorite colleagues. The three of us were split into separate small groups, and their experience was the same.

Note: My two colleagues and I have all worked together for the same church for many years. Director of Children’s Ministry (me), Director of Youth Ministry, and Contemporary Worship Coordinator.

When person #7 in my group sat down to applause after what was basically a fundamentalist testimony, I had a hard time joining in on the clapping. It wasn’t just that I was uncomfortable with the message. I was, quite simply, shocked by the way the exercise was being hijacked.

Interestingly, most maps I could find that depicted the. Bible Belt left Kansas out of the region. I beg to differ.

And then, I found a new best friend seated immediately to my left. During the time for comments on that particular speaker’s story, she offered this critique:

“You know, I feel I just have to say something here. I’m pretty uncomfortable with the use of faith stories in this setting. I think it’s important when using story that you consider three things. One, that in most business settings it’s entirely inappropriate to share this type of story. Two, you have no idea how such a story might affect someone in the room – some might be really turned off. Three, you can really get yourself into trouble.”

I wish I’d been brave enough to speak my mind in this way. But I’d been burned earlier in the day. I had mentioned within the small group that I rarely introduce myself to people by telling them what my full-time job is – because in this region of the country, people tend to make some assumptions about churches and church workers that are absolutely the antithesis of who I am and what I believe. When I’d dropped that statement, the chorus of crickets was deafening.

My neighbor’s comment was met with silence and blank faces, as well. At the end of that session, I thanked her for speaking up, and we had an excellent conversation.

My colleagues and I, comparing notes on the 2 1/2 hour drive home, were shocked by the direction taken in so many of the stories we heard that day.

Yes, our three jobs and our callings are all about faith. But our faith tradition comes with a couple of basic truths: #1 – There’s a time and a place for everything. Be sensitive to those around you who might be different from you. And #2 – How we live and behave is a hell of a lot more important than what we say. We choose, quite deliberately, not to sneak up on people with conversations about faith.

It’s no small thing that I work closely with people who share my beliefs and my worldview, here in the scripture-thumping Bible Belt.

And if any churches on the east coast are looking for three experienced, progressive lay employees, we’d be interested.

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4 thoughts on “That’s life in the Bible Belt.

    • Thank you! I, too, work very hard to avoid the term “Christian” for the exact same reason. I’ll never forget the day I said that to the (quite old) pastor of our former church. He was flabbergasted, to say the least. But I stand by it! I’m so glad to know someone I respect and appreciate (YOU) feels the same way!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Seriously, I give you major credit. I think I would have been run out of town by now. My husband recently had to go to Uzbekistan and came back saying, basically, you could never live there. YOu’d be expelled by the government for sedition. I’m starting to think that my own home country’s state governments would do the same. That said: speak your mind and your conscience. As you saw, you are not alone in your lines of thought, you have every right to believe just as strongly as someone else, even if that belief is in complete contradiction. Stay strong. And lastly, this is another one of those instances where thought that have been percolating around in my head start to pop up in other people’s work, making me truly believe once again in the hive mind collective. I’ve been mildly obsessed with the ides of stories as connections (in particular myths and how they relate to religion, and how the American Dream relates to myth which basically stands in as a substitute religion). But then again, I’ve also been walking a knife edge between passion and insanity, so there is that too….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really appreciate the encouragement. What makes it so much harder is that I can rarely speak my mind like this out of concern for how our congregation members would react. The weird thing about being part of the Lutheran Church, ELCA is this: another basic tenet is that we agree to disagree, meaning we have people of vastly differening beliefs and world views within the denomination, and in our case – because it’s a quite large congregation – within the congregation itself. Because of where we’re placed geographically (meaning a super-conservative area), if I truly spoke my mind all the time there would be a ton of people who would be furious with me. I have the backing of our staff and of our denomination, but not necessarily of our members. Weird.

      I agree that it’s heartening to hear others shouting about things that have disturbed me for so long. It gives me hope that there may truly be change coming, somewhere down the line.

      Like

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