Thursday, March 17, 2011

Deflections on the Good Life

We hustled some hot muffins over to the octogenarian-ette neighbor because she's been laid up with an infected knee.  She's about the sweetest and fanciest thing ever.  She claims to be a city girl, although she moved out here to her husband's mega-acre farm when she was 17.  She drove in to town every day to be a "big city" nurse and still claims to be clueless about farming.  One admires the chutzpah to claim a life totally separate from your husband's.  We adore her.

Seated in her living room, she relishes the company and launches in to a thrilling recap of her Bible Study Fellowship class.  She fishes out her Bible and reads the week's verse, pontificating and expounding upon Isaiah's wisdom and ... how to put that...psychic?... abilities.  I listen.  I let her enthusiasm billow over me.  I try to find points of agreement and stick with those.  I tell her I'm so happy she's getting so much out of that.  "Would you like to come some time?"  She invites.  There's a rabid faith in her eyes, a foaming pit bull who won't take "no" for an answer.  A blood hound.  Can she hear my panicked rabbit heart spasming? Can she smell the fear I am most certainly excreting from my freaked-out glands? How did we get here?  How did I get to this spot where I have to tell this old sweetie pie to shove it?  But rest assured dear readers, I have tools!  I have giant deflectors.

I have become a master of deflection, a journeyman of dodginess.  Here are the tools of my trade:

1a) I say, "I am very involved in my church and don't think I can fit another thing in!"  I love saying I go to church.  In this part of Washington state, it accords you privileges and dignity.  People trust you.  Like you.  People think the best of you and you are free to go.

b) the second part of this tool comes when she asks, "What church do you go to?"
"We are Unitarian Universalists."  I rely on her not knowing what that is, but assuming it's like Lutheran or Episcopal... close enough.  It's camoflage: is that a shrub over there?  or some chick army crawling under Jesus-barbed wire?  Although I tell her the name several times, she clearly can't place exactly what it is.  I like that.

2)  As she rhapsodizes about her church, which in next to ours, and looks like a giant ark with mood lighting and remote controlled curtains, I take my opportunity to further deflect.  I say, "My father is a Pastor."
"OH MY!  What denomination?"
"Non-denominational Protestant generally, but now he's a Mennonite Pastor."
I try to feel no shame using my father's job as cover.  I've done it before.  It once landed me an apartment when I sorely needed one.  When I use this tool, I feel like a feminist stripper:  being a woman is such a crappy, bottom position in this society that I might as well fill my panties with money and make the most of it.
My father's job, unlike most father's jobs, has been my cross to bear... and not because of him.  I recently chatted with someone who was talking about a pastor and his family as if they were all part of a package deal, a hero and his unpaid side-kicks.  My visceral response vacillated between needing an air-sickness-baggie and dieing to bash heads together.  People deny it when pressed, but it's true, the pastor's family is a special brood of gawk-worthy freaks who are just part of his circus act.  I know he tried to shield us from this fate and I could probably fill a very tedious, self-involved book-length blog post about all this but I'll stop right here.  The point is that although I no longer consider myself the Pastor's Daughter, it did impact my formative years as much as if my parents had tattooed my entire body to look like a tiger and made me jump through flaming hoops.  So, if I can occasionally pull something out of that that works to my benefit, I have no... or rather, few.... qualms about doing so.

3)  Deflection device three I didn't use here, but have accessed plenty.  Another one of those: I-paid-the-price,-I'm-leaving-with-my-merchandise situations.  This one goes, "I went to Bible College."  Never mind that I engaged in so much youthful carousing and follies and pool my second semester at the U.S.'s smallest accredited college in the smallest town in central Alaska that when I told them I wasn't returning for a second year, they assured me that I hadn't been invited to anyway.

I feel a little unctuous and smarmy using these tools, like an over-priced, un-showered plumber.

As we left, she says at the door, "I am just so glad to know that I have such good, nice, Christian neighbors!" And Blue looks at me, "Uh...MOM!?"  I smile huge, say SHSHSH, and kick Blue's foot, the universal mother-sign for: shutupshutupshutup.  I turn to M and gush, "It was so good to see you.  We'll come to visit again soon!"

As we walk down her driveway, Blue says, "But MOM!  We're not Christians!"
Maybe I am a Christian after all!
"I know."
"But why didn't you correct her?"
"Because that is a very long conversation and I have to get dinner going.  I didn't mean to be dishonest.  I just didn't want to talk about it."  And what am I supposed to say when she packages it all up that way?  Oh, Sorry neighbor lady, but we're not Christian, we're not nice, and we're not good.  But we are your neighbors, so good luck with that!
"You weren't dishonest," Blue assures, "You told her, like, three times that we're Unitarians."
"Yeah, but I was relying on the fact that she wouldn't know what that was."

There is hilarity and irony in this set of deflectors I have and I am sure there are many South Carolina mall-walkers who would be thrilled to gloat right now.  I spent my teen years approaching strangers every Wednesday night, "witnessing"...  sometimes to serious screamers whose feelings I now get.  I "witnessed" on buses, airplanes, street corners, Lane Bryant.  So I now understand the proselytizer's "thinking" and I sometimes feel it's my penance to put up with it all.  I can't imagine how irritating and annoying I must have been, perky teen pushing "answers".

My Unitarian friends seemed split on how to deal with those of religious persuasions that won't just let us go to hell.  For myself, I can feel the love of the Jesus-Converter; convinced I'm going to hell for eternity, what else can they do if they care at all?  I don't mind if Mormon's induct me into their books or whatever.  And I love to hear that people are praying for me... depends on what they're praying.

But other Unitarians are angered by the affront to their integrity and autonomy and tell all comers to shove-it.  Some felt the noblest path was stating you are not a Christian and then allowing people to see you are good anyway.  Be true to yourself!  And yet, I felt that in this scenario, being true to myself was going home and making dinner.

Some Unitarians, including me, felt that avoiding the topic was a fine way to go, especially in the eastern side of the state and especially when dealing with 80-some year old widows who aren't known for changing their world views.  We do this because we have other things to do with our time and energy, like making dinner.  We don't want to get involved in these discussions willy-nilly as they are exhausting and frequently fruitless.  And because many seem to then filter everything you do through the "Not-good, not-nice, not-Christian" filter. So we quietly deflect and move on with our lives, being good, nice, and dodgy Unitarian neighbors.

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