Conversations, Education, & the Christian Ghetto ~ BitterSweetLife

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Conversations, Education, & the Christian Ghetto

You expect them to be personable, to "take an interest." You would like to see a warmth and energy; ideally, there would be a kindness, even a love. A certain maturity of bearing is looked for, such as what you see, to a ludicrously exaggerated degree, in politicians and talk show personalities. That is, you expect them to place their self-awareness at the service of those around them. After all, this is inherent to their job description.

They are ordered to invest, day after day, in those around them, with small prospects of sufficient repayment. They are called upon to communicate empowering knowledge, and to do so in a way that does justice to the knowledge and maneuvers it into unwilling hearts and minds. To oversimplify is to denude reality of its force and nudge their audience closer to a colorless, ingrown life.

So when experience fails to jive with your expectations, you pause and reflect.

"Bubbly" and "chatty" are two adjectives that have never been aimed at me - but when I'm around these people, I make an effort to strike up conversations. I've discovered a surprising dynamic at play. If you catch them alone, they're often willing to talk. To be fair, friendly discussions sometimes take place. But at times there is a note of condescension, as their tones reflect the firm conviction that you are an outsider. They are doing you a favor by acknowledging your presence.

When a group of them are gathered in one place, the atmosphere changes dramatically. I sit there nearby because that is where I am, and I don't care to move - but I'm keenly aware of my bug-on-the-wall status. They warm to each other, exchanging insider stories, telling insider jokes, using insider jargon. I take a bite of my sandwhich and smile, my eyes fixed on the appropriate middle distance. I've been in this situation frequently enough that my occasional interjections have taken on an experimental quality. I say things just for fun, for my own amusement. In return, I get a one-sentence answer or a courtesy nod. Interesting...

I've met them on their own turf, in their own little ghetto. But I wonder: Would these people talk to me if I met them on the street? Would I, no longer the "outsider" in the wider setting of "the world," want to talk to them? Why would I?

It's the society of public school teachers I'm describing. And yes, there are exceptions to my exaggerated rule. But isn't there another lesson here as well?

Like what you read? Don't forget to bookmark this post or subscribe to the feed.


must_decrease said...

The argument you make from implication is staggering, (hence "Christian Ghetto" tacked on to the title).

This well meaning bunch of educators could very well resemble, any number of Christian gatherings many of us frequent, as well as our interactions with those in the lost and dying world.

Sure, excuses could be made for exclusion of you from thier conversation, "he doesn't know what we are talking about...he probobly isn't that interested anyway...", but the bottom line is, they don't care enough about you as a person to share their life with you.

What a much needed wake up call for us in our interaction with those we come into contact with. Excuses must in, vain niceities must stop and the real work of sharing a life of love in relationship must begin.

Without these things we are failing to be people Christ called us to be


Anonymous said...

As I started out reading this post I imagined that you were referring to Christian pastors. They are educators of a sort who are also expected to put themselves out for others daily (sometimes 24/7), and unless they're pastoring mega-churches their income also does not accurately represent the investment they put into their work. My misinterpretation of the first couple paragraphs probably comes from the fact that I grew up as a pastor's kid and have a lot of thoughts on the topic of life for leaders/families in ministry. At any rate, I enjoyed your post about public school teachers, and if it interests you I wouldn't mind hearing about your thoughts on leaders/families in ministry one day! =)

- Dana

Ariel said...

As I started out reading this post I imagined that you were referring to Christian pastors.

I'm glad to hear it, since that's the implication I was trying to make - although I was trying to describe the entire body of Christ, not just the "leaders." I'd go so far as to say that this post, despite the fact that it describes public school teachers, isn't really about public school teachers... It's the parallel that struck me. (I should probably clarify that I don't really have a bone to pick with teachers, either. They're underpaid and the system they're tied to is, in many ways, ridiculous. Needless to say, "insider" snobbery is something we're all partial too.

Must_decrease nails it here:

This well meaning bunch of educators could very well resemble, any number of Christian gatherings many of us frequent, as well as our interactions with those in the lost and dying world.

I appreciate your query here...

I wouldn't mind hearing about your thoughts on leaders/families in ministry one day! =)

I'll chew on that and see what I come up with. Any particular aspect of the topic that you'd like to focus in on?

MrsC said...

I've been thinking about this one for a while now, and a few random thoughts come to mind. I have witnessed this Christian ghetto mentality among regular church members, though I think a significant difference can be seen between those who are, for example, economically secure and those who are not. I believe that Christians who are in situations of distress or need will be more likely to drop this exclusivistic mindset, and families in ministry with meagre incomes may be more humble and open with the rest of the saved/unsaved world than wealthier Christians who are perfectly comfortable in their established cliques. Being in survival mode seems to have a way of dissolving pretence and snobbery, and I wonder whether the atmosphere in our churches would be improved if we were all just a little less well-off?

On the topic of families in ministry I would be interested to hear your observations on any aspect of that lifestyle. As for my own interests, given that I'm still dealing with the natural consequences of my parents' lifestyle, it's the social and financial aspects that weigh on my mind. We live in a world where most Christians buy into the importance of job security, insurance, climbing the social ladder and so on. Yet I have experienced many unsettling moments of cognitive dissonance when urging my parents to make choices along the same lines. As a pastor's kid (PK) I've known laypeople to expect my family to somehow live 'holier' than the rest, so I've become painfully aware of potential spiritual or moral contradictions in my family's lifestyle when compared to our message. And as a missionary kid (MK) I've also heard many instances in which supporting churches expect their missionary families to be the picture of thriftiness; no fancy sports cars, entertainment systems or designer clothes allowed, because that would be a 'waste' of the church's financial support.

So what path should spiritual leaders pursue - financial comfort, security, and sufficient means to entertain ourselves the way the rest of the world does, or do we pursue a path of 'humility' and modest means? If we ought to choose the latter, why not other Christians along with us? From a social and relational perspective, how do these pressures divide ministry families from laypeople?

Just a few random thoughts. =)

- Dana


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife