Wednesday, January 7, 2015

No, we're not all just like you.

I will never forget the block party we had at a neighborhood I lived in about 20 years ago.  We had cordoned off the entrance of our cul-de-sac so the kids could safely play in the street, and had arranged chairs and placed a myriad of pot-luck dishes (one from each household) on a table in the driveway of one of the houses.

As we gathered around to grab some food and sit down, my next door neighbor, a big, strapping 20 something young man who'd grown up and spent his entire life so far probably no more than 50 miles from where we were standing suddenly said,"Let's start with a prayer."

And so I did what I'd been taught to do in such circumstances, which is bow my head in respect, although I will admit to being quizzical as to what this particular form of saying grace might take.  What followed was a highly Christian, Jesus-oriented monologue, and when it was over I felt extremely uncomfortable.  Not with Jesus himself but with my neighbor bringing him out and asking everyone assembled to pray in his name.  One couple were avowed atheists, I knew, another was a Hindu doctor and his neuro-biologist wife, and of course me and my son, who come from a Jewish background but who are not anti-Jesus by any stretch of the imagination but who do have our own style and manner of prayer.

How does the saying go? Religion is like a penis.  It's great if you have one, but if you start taking it out and waving it around in public, you are probably going to annoy or offend someone.

My young neighbor made a mistake which I see often in our society, which is to assume that everyone is just like you, simply because you belong to the dominant culture of the area. And the more endogamous your upbringing was -- the more you only associated with folks of your own tribe -- the more you will have trouble seeing the shades of grey in between the black and white of your own upbringing.

Earlier this year when our new neighbor John met the couple across the street (who happen to be gay) for the first time, he later told me he'd met them by saying, "well, I met Ray and his son today."  Clearly, he was using a reference point of his own to determine relationships, and in his universe, two men of slightly different ages who lived together must be father and son.  Of course, right? It should not have surprised me that he was from the same general area we spent 20 years residing in, back in the Valley, back where the cul-du-sac prayer had happened.

Homesteading, of all things, can also put you at odds with society at large, depending on where you live. If you're in a black and white place, people will look at you funny if you tell them you make your own butter and yogurt, use a solar oven, or hang your wash out to dry even though there is a perfectly intact clothes dryer in your laundry room.  

And if you live in a place like this, you have three choices.  1) You can decide to stay right where you are and continually swim against the tide, maybe just for the sake of educating those around you or because you like being different.  2) You can find a place equally endogamous, but where your culture is the dominant one. Or, 3) you can move someplace where no one will think you strange when you live your life because you are in a place where there are lots of different types of people -- different religions, different lifestyles, different sexual orientations.

The other day at the winery a gay couple came in and, after serving them their wine and chatting with them, they said, "we are so grateful to be in an area like this for vacation. We have never felt more accepted for who we are." When I asked where they were visiting from, they told me Oklahoma.  "It's very different there," they said sadly.

And so my advice to you today is the same as it was to them.  If you are living in an area of black and white and are a person somewhere on the gray color spectrum, pick up the real estate section and start looking elsewhere.  Maybe your lifestyle is so eccentric (say, if you are a Upscale Deist Vegetarian Bisexual or something like that) that no place will ever be filled with folks completely like you, but at least you can find a place where being different is welcomed and affirmed, where people will celebrate your differences with you and not ask you to pray, marry, shop, or live like them.

Some things are worth moving for, believe me.


  1. So brilliantly said. My heart aches for that couple. How truly unfair to be isolated from your "home". I've had a few hateful encounters, but not many. They stand out vividly in my memory and still cut deeply because I felt so caught off guard. It still brings a tear to my eye when I think about the time I was in the grocery store at about 17. Someone said something to me out of the blue and I was stunned and scared. His reason for saying this was something with his faith and God, so he said. An elderly woman overheard this and got in this guy's face and told him that the God she knew would be disgusted by the things he said to me. She was fearless and I could never forget that kindness. I love faith and I love faithful people. But when people get into that aggressive and insensitive behavior I can't understand it. The comparison between a penis and religion is too funny and so accurate. What a great post. Community is perhaps the greatest human experience. Why anyone would choose to isolate themselves from it by being close minded to differences is far beyond me. Community is that lady in the grocery store, not the overbearing neighbor with obnoxious and exclusionary prayer.

    1. That is the truth, and I think God is with those who practice TRUE community and are inclusive and welcoming of everyone. And there is no question it makes for a better community. I want my kids to grow up meeting a wide variety of people so they will be tolerant, respectful and openminded. It's a big, wonderful world out there filled with all sorts of people, and to miss out on that seems a shame!