Do you know what really grinds my gears? People who wear their religion like an accessory and use it as a talking point with strangers, assuming that these strangers will go along with whatever they have to say about it. When that kind of affiliation is displayed in a public setting, it's about as meaningful to me as seeing a Denver Broncos flag on a lawn. It tells me a little bit about a person, not a lot.
Of course, this is not to say that people can't talk about hot-button topics like religion and politics with one another. However, I think that these topics are best discussed in private settings, among people who can respectfully agree to disagree if that should become necessary. I also believe in the idea of keeping one's own feelings private. Maybe I'm a throwback to the days before social media, but I don't think it's necessary to advertise one's faith or political views with anyone else.
When I lived in Winterville, though, it seemed that the most snarky, stuck-up and angry people I met were the most likely to advertise their faith and religion. There was a righteous air about some of the people I met, and it really affected me.
Anyway, probably one of the sharpest (and in retrospect, funniest) things I said to anyone was when I had this type of encounter in Winterville. See below.
A local group of artists put on to show off their wares in time for holiday shopping. Although it took place downtown, it was scheduled during the afternoon and didn’t present the usual safety and hillbilly concerns. I went to it by myself.
Predictably, I didn’t know anyone there. This proved challenging at first. I spent a while staring at the artwork on the walls and taking a serious interest in the Christmas tree decorations, paintings, and jewelry; but at the urging of one artist, Meredith, who introduced herself to me when I arrived, I tried to mingle. She introduced me to a group of women who were chatting in a circle, drinks in hand.
One woman, Sarah, was in a state of turmoil because her husband had left her for someone else.
“It’s been a tough time,” Sarah said, and we all nodded in agreement. “I am still so angry with him.”
“I can only imagine,” said another woman, who wore conspicuously large diamond ring on the hand she used to hold her drink. Her blond highlights and French-manicured nails reminded me of the people I’d encountered in Winterville’s “young professionals” group.
“Did you get married young?” I asked.
“Seven years ago,” she answered, nodding.
“And you’d known each other a while before that?” I asked.
“Since high school,” she answered.
“Wow,” I answered.
“He found some 23-year-old,” she added.
“Bummer. I have an ex who did that too.” And got her pregnant 2 months later, I thought. That was funny, for me at least.
“Thank goodness you didn’t have children with him,” said her friend with the streaked hair and big diamond ring.
Sarah nodded, watery-eyed and resigned. I didn’t ask, but assumed she probably had wanted children.
“You have the support of your friends, and even though it doesn’t seem like it now, things will get better for you,” I said.
“He always says he’s such a Christian man. Look at what he’s done!” Sarah said. Her friend nodded and murmured in agreement and I stifled an eye roll. Really? I thought. We’re going to talk about Jesus now?
“I have to ask,” I interjected. “Does it really mean anything to say that he’s Christian? Do you know anyone around here who isn’t Christian?”
“Well, no,” Sarah answered.
“Then why did you mention it?” I asked. “Telling me a man in Winterville is Christian is like telling me he wears pants. It tells me nothing about him. Call me crazy, but I think a man’s behavior says way more about him than whatever religious beliefs he advertises.”
At first, they were silent. They didn’t know what to do with me. Sarah fumbled and spit out, “He was taught... I mean, he was supposed to learn...from the example of Jesus Christ. The example!”
Luckily, a dark-haired woman across the room overheard the conversation, recognized me as a kindred spirit, and walked right over to me.
“Salina Shaw,” she said, sticking out her hand to shake mine. “Call me Sal.”
“Jane Phoenix,” I answered back. “Do you know any of these artists?” I asked.
“Oh, Meredith and I go way back. We worked together before up north, and again now here at Winterville magazine.”
“Great to meet you,” I said, smiling.
“Have you seen the ornaments made out of aluminum cans?” she asked me.
“No, but that sounds really cool,” I answered.
“I’ll show you,” she said, “just follow me.”
“Excuse me, ladies,” I said. There was no response.
We ended up outside, at a table full of aluminum art, when we exchanged looks and started laughing hysterically.
“What the hell?” she asked.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I am so sick of people around here wearing their religion like some sort of label or accessory and talking about it constantly. What is up with that?”
“I don’t know, but you should have heard the snickers in the room. From the artists, I mean. I thought one of them might start clapping. I was standing there talking to them, and suddenly it got quiet, and we were all like, ‘Who is that woman who dares to speak her mind?’”
“I can’t tell you how glad I was that you rescued me,” I told her. “I didn’t know what to do with those women.”
“No, thank you,” Sal said to me. “When I heard you say that, I knew you were the only guest at this gathering that I had any business talking to!”
We gravitated back to the artists, who stood in a clump in the corner of the room while the guests milled around. Meredith was among them, and I was glad to see a somewhat familiar face.
“Jane! Good to see you again. I wonder if I could interest you in some ornaments I’ve crafted out of Christian men’s pants,” she said.
I smiled, a bit suspiciously at first, but then laughed when she said, “I’m Jewish.”
“No wonder you’re friendly,” I answered.
“Yeah, I know what it’s like to be different around here. It can be lonely.”
“Tell me about it. Everybody’s Jesus this and Jesus that. Jesus Christ, do they talk about anything besides Jesus Christ?”