Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Barber and the House of Mirrors

No, I have finished my series on An Ingenuous Apologetic. I have at least one more post on why I'm not an atheist and then posts on why I'm not a pantheist and why it is tempting not to be a Christian (or in other words the absurdity of that path as well) yet, why I still am.  But I will take up a different matter for now and come back to that later.

In our small town there are about four barber shops. Two of them, oddly, are on the same block, just a few doors apart. I will refer to them a "barbershop A" and "barbershop B."

A while back, I was looking for a new barber (now that I work on the island and can't get to Great Clips easily).  I had heard good things about barbershop A and I went to find it quickly one day at lunch. But I accidentally walked in to barbershop B (not realizing there were two).

My experience in barbershop B was a bid odd. The lady who ran it was sitting in the corner. I was her only patron.  She sat me up in the chair, put the towel around my neck. Then, rather than slicing my throat as Mr. Todd would have (Sweeney Todd if you don't know) she pulled up a TV right in front of me and turned it to the TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network). There were the clowns with the big hair and demands for money.  It was clear that the barber wanted me to watch it as her "evangelistic technique."  If you know me, I despise TBN. It makes me sick to my stomach. Those people are so far out of touch with reality that it is simply bizarre. But she kept commenting with sighs, "Wow. God is good. Hallelujah!" all said in whispers.

But that was a long time ago. Yesterday, I did find barbershop A and went in for a haircut. Once again I was the only patron.  As the barber had me in the seat, we were just making small talk. I asked how long he had been there. "Two years," he said.

I made the comment, "I tried to find you once before but went to the wrong shop."  He just cut my hair in silence. Then I said something that I would later regret. I don't know why I just don't keep my mouth shut.  I said, "Yeah, it was an odd experience in the other shop as I was required to watch TV evangelists, you know, the lady with the big blue hair."

My dear barber A, cleared his throat, "Well, I will tell you that I'm a Christian too (referring to the lady forcing me watch TBN as the other Christian part of too)."  He didn't look very happy with me. Then he added, "I try not to share Jesus with my patrons unless they bring it up first (implying that I had just opened Pandora's praise book).

I felt grief. I knew that I was standing outside the Fun House at the carnival and one way or the other I was going to enter the world of distorted mirrors. If I said I was a Christian too . . . or I guess that is thrice, he would smile and start Jesus talk, which for me would not be sincere. You know, "Jesus told me this and he told me that." If I didn't speak up, he was assuming I wasn't a Christian because I had just commented that I didn't like the bizarre TV evangelist on TBN. Back on the other hand, I knew that if I said that I was a Christian, he would immediately start to pick my Christianity apart because I had already done the unpardonable thing of saying I didn't like the evangelists with the big, bizarre hair, the fake boobs and the constant emotional manipulation for money. It is the unspoken and unpardonable sin for Evangelical to criticism another. That's why my old pastor, and many others in my old church, were appalled when I said I would not read the book (required reading by the pastor for all of the Church leaders) simply because it was written by the Benny Hinn Ministries (a pure evil celestial mafia in my eyes).

I choose to say I was a Christian. That didn't make the barber any happier as he was just starting his plan to deconstruct my evangelicalism to prove I wasn't a very good Christian . . .but I was saved in the nick of time as a group of other patrons came in the door.

Now I know what goes on in the "Fun House" because I was an Evangelical for 30 years and was the guy at the door trying to get you to enter. But I know how it works. I want you in the Fun House (and I mean here by "Fun House" as the evangelistic conversation or our take on "sharing the gospel") because I desperately wanted God to like me, and He rarely did, and I wanted to like myself, which I also rarely did. So, by "evangelizing" someone, or entering such an evangelistic conversation, I had some greater sense of self-worth.

I could also create some sense of self worth but picking out the sin of the unbeliever, "So you live with your girlfriend?  God has something better for you as He has said that fornication is sin."

Now, if the person told me that they were a Christian, then I could only get an increased personal sense of worth if I gently and insidiously broke down their Christianity.  Now this has to be done with slight of hand, distorted mirrors and hidden doors, so that I wouldn't be blatant. I would do this by listing all the great works I had done for God, but say it in a way that God alone seems to get the praise (more distorted mirrors). Then I would criticize the other Christian's accomplishments. "How many people are in your Bible study?  Oh, three?  Hmm. I know that when I learned to pray earnestly and trust God I saw my Bible study grow to twenty (do you see how the wrapped mirror makes me look skinny and the other guy fat?)

But I think I've made my point. It is ironic that I have a passion for honest conversations about theology, the gospel, personal suffering, pain, philosophy, science, arts, history . . . or anything. But I hate so much to enter "Christian" conversations in the House of Fun.


Jaimie said...

I have found when I engage with evangelical Christians about things I find disingenuous within the evangelical culture, such as TBN, about.... um... 60% of the time it ends up being a good conversation. Some evangelicals surprise you. Then again, maybe this is because I'm 25 and people my age are more open-minded generally. "Tolerance" and all that.

But sometimes I'll do it with someone over 40 or so and they'll surprise me by agreeing with me. If someone starts belittling your bible study for having 3 people, just shrug and say, "It's not about the numbers, it's about the people," and they sort of HAVE to agree with you there. For every "Christian" thing they think, there is a "more Christian" response. And then maybe you're helping them grow. Maybe they're not a lost cause.

Not to criticize this post. Because some people are absolute rats, for sure.

jmj said...

No apologizes needed Jaimie. I think there are a few factors in my reflections. For one, I think I was part of a more dysfunctional part of Evangelicalism for a long time, tainting my view of the world. Like someone molested as a child sees all adults (even good, decent people) as molesters.

So, part of it could be my Evange-o-paranoia. I'm sorry if that is the case. I always am asking myself, is this me trying to get to the very honest roots of things or is it me projecting my biased opinion onto others.

The barber seemed to be starting down the path of trying to test if I was a "real" evangelical by the questions that he was asking. But who knows where the conversation would have gone if the other customers had not come in.

I've also noticed, that I couldn't have a decent conversation with people at my old evangelical church . . . while at church. It would always (at least in my biased opinion) start down the path of "I'm a better Christian than you" and I just didn't want to go there.

But since I've left that church, and I run into these same people, say . . . at a concert (which we have in the middle of the city every Friday night) and they have a beer in their hands, they are very cordial and kind, and nice folks. I've noticed that it is I who starts to bring up "spiritual" conversations . . . which they would rather avoid in that context.

Now, I don't know if this applies to your (Vs my) situation, but I've noticed for a long time that my wife's relationship with the women at my old evangelical church was always nurturing, kind and supportive. But the moment I would try to talk to a man at church, it seem inevitable that they would be pointing out that I was not speaking the party dogma. So, men being more insecure and arrogant than women in general (hopefully not a stereotype) tend to want to treat one another down . . . maybe like girls do to each other in middle school.

But again, maybe it is my false interpretation of the events and if so, I apologize.

Jaimie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jaimie said...

(Fixed some punctuation.)

"I've also noticed, that I couldn't have a decent conversation with people at my old evangelical church... while at church."

SO true. That's why I thought maybe the barber might have given you a better rub. While at church, people have the greatest capacity to be jerks.

It's funny how so many pastors harp on "how you are at church" not matching "how you are at home" and how the two should match. I agree. Except I think "how you are at home" is usually the right way to be.

What you said about men communicating differently makes sense. Men are socialized to not be very feely-feely in how they speak. Empathy is feely-feely, so what's the point in expressing it? I have heard, but not experienced, that men are also more competitive with each other. It makes sense that that competitiveness would translate to religious matters. I can totally see what you're saying now. Whenever I talk to men, since I'm a woman, they don't instinctively compete with me.

Women are competitive too, but empathy is more of a value I guess.


I was in a cultishly horrible evangelical situation until I was 17, but two factors probably made my experience different from yours. (1) There were several families in the "cult" that did not completely conform. Wore jeans and went to movies and had outspoken daughters and such. Sure, we looked on them as lesser Christians, but I still got some variety punching holes in the dogma. (2) I got out of it at 17, since it's so in vogue to not be evangelical now. I was lucky. Whereas you experienced it in adulthood when it was the hottest thing ever.

Even though childhood is an impressionable time, it's more passive I guess? Experiencing fundyism as an adult, actively creating it even... I can see how that would be more unsettling.

Steve Martin said...

ocenteed fxpentMy pastor's father was also a pastor (long retired now).

He used to say, "People...they're no damn good."

Anonymous said...

jmj, here's something you can bring up next time you're in the chair, having to stare at TBN. A true believer, though, can look at A and swear it's B.

I really enjoy your work.