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Tuesday, March 27, 2007
International Faith Experiences: The Grey Line
A story:

A few weeks ago I participated in a program that outfits unemployed Canadians with new or gently-used clothing. For a nominal fee, about a dozen of us were allowed to "shop" for a week's worth of formal and casual business outfits. Volunteers assisted us as we hunted for clothing that suited each of us the most. The charity that organizes this program is secular, but the program itself operates out of the basement of a local Baptist church.

I arrived at the side entrance of the church a few minutes early that day. By the time the doors opened 20 minutes later, nearly a dozen women would be waiting patiently. We were Black, White, Asian, and Latina. We were teens who wore flip flops and halter tops despite the slightly chilly weather, recent immigrants who spoke English as a second language and struggled to understand and to be understood, and middle-aged moms who rushed in at the last second with two kids in tow.

A woman in a business suit walked up to the church with me. Neither one of us had realized until we arrived that this program was located in a church. And then it happened: music. Christian music. Gospel music blaring, squawking from a speaker I hadn't noticed was attached to the side door of the church. I wasn't familiar with the song, but I do remember that it said something about the importance of perseverance through all of life's struggles. The woman who stood beside me sighed, said "I can't believe this" and began to walk down the street. She stopped at the very edge of the church's property and placed her cellphone to her ear.

While their choice of music did surprise me, I wasn't offended by it, but it did seem a little out of place for the situation.

The doors opened and we walked in. Later, when I was in one of the change rooms, I heard the woman talk to one of the volunteers about the music. She didn't believe in "that stuff." While she didn't have a problem with what other people believed, she really wasn't interested in being forced to absorb those messages in this type of situation. (Or something to that effect.)

I don't know what is the moral of this story. There probably isn't one, but the things that woman said have been echoing in my mind. I wish I could have picked up more pieces of the plot (who played the music? did they do it intentionally or do the speakers operate on some sort of timer? has anyone ever complained before? was the woman in the suit simply having a bad day?) before the day ended. But I didn't.

Upcoming posts in this series will discuss topics like the role of women in various Canadian churches, GLBT faith experiences, evangelism, as well as other examples of the challenges (and advantages!) of living in a religiously diverse society.

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posted by Lydia at 11:50 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 3/27/2007 03:39:00 PM, Anonymous sonja

    Maybe I'm not humble enough, but something about that story makes me angry. Why couldn't the church just make it a nice event for the women and have some meaningless classical music playing? Or Muzak? Why did they have to turn it into a "thing"? And maybe they didn't ... it might have been sheer thoughtlessness, but shouldn't we be thinking about those things a little more deeply? Ugh ...

  • At 3/27/2007 03:45:00 PM, Blogger wilsford

    i'm of two minds on this:

    1) is it really charity if it comes with strings attached (such has having to take home a bible tract or listen to special music

    2) why shouldn't the host have the opportunity to make their message, theme or interest made known? sorta like a courtesy: "hi, here is a little bit about who we are and why we do this."

    3) point #2 being made, i don't think it should ever be a bait-and-switch, high pressure, come-to-the-lord situation.

  • At 3/27/2007 05:43:00 PM, Blogger Janice

    I'm actually surprised anyone would be offended - it was in a church - why shouldn't they play church music? Maybe they play music everyday. If it was blaring I'd have had a problem with the level, but nothing else. If I went to a mosque and got 'free' clothes I wouldn't be offended if they played some of their music. I'd be thankful for the clothes. Maybe they think its nicer than dead silence. I think sometimes people expect too much, for others to anticipate what they might want or what they like or don't like. I also think there's a growing segment that sees 'evil' intentions or motives everywhere they go.

    Lydia, why did it strike you as 'out of place'? What did you expect the tone to be (or how should it have been different) ?

  • At 3/27/2007 07:50:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    why did it strike you as 'out of place'?

    Probably because the church was simply hosting the event, not running it.

    I wouldn't expect a church who was hosting a blood drive, using their gymnasium to collect donations for victims of the latest natural disaster, or providing a place for local people to vote in the next big election to pump out religious music as visitors walked in and out.

    It would be different if this charity was faith-based or if it was something founded or run by members of that church. From what I can tell, neither one is true.

    What did you expect the tone to be (or how should it have been different)?

    This may be unrealistic, but I think it's good for a church to be as subtle as possible when hosting community events that are not rooted in a faith-based initiative.

    The focus in these situations isn't converting anyone, it's providing a specific service (access to voting machines, collecting blood, money, or clothing donations, etc etc) to the general population.

    I think they're better off planting seeds in these situations.

    (I'd say the same thing if it was Mosque or a Temple, btw.)

  • At 3/27/2007 11:29:00 PM, Blogger Janice

    Thanks for your response Lydia. Your perspective is interesting.

    I have never heard anyone say they were offended in attending a blood drive in a church that happened to have music playing....or that they thought it was inappropriate. While one might not 'expect' it they certainly shouldn't be surprised by it IMO. Some people actually find a good portion of christian music to be soothing and comforting, encouraging, etc. its interesting how many people can sing the words to Amazing Grace or some of the contemporary christian music who don't consider themselves 'christian' and yet enjoy the music.

    I agree the focus isn't on converting anyone, but to expect them to be 'subtle'...hmmmm, should they take down the cross? I personally think authentic is a better expectation. I would never consider playing music as an attempt to 'convert' anyone. I'd consider it more likely to be part of a robust personality or an expression of joy. Its no wonder many churches have pulled away from the communities...people are offended by just about anything that has to do with the authentic life of a church or body of believers. Music is at the heart of worship etc for many church bodies.

    Hopefully the majority of the women were more grateful (& gracious) for the opportunity to have the clothes and a semi-private place to obtain them than the one you shared about. I'm sure its a pretty crappy feeling when you're trying to do something nice and all people could do was complain the music. Some people will complain about anything, and while the majority of us know that and try to be gracious, I've seen a lot of people just stop trying. Its sad.

  • At 3/28/2007 09:37:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    I can see both sides to this situation. I agree with all of the comments. It just shows how we all differ in perception, and the vast things that back our perceptions.
    I think some things should "be expected" at a church. No, I wouldn't expect them to take the cross down etc. I do know, however, that motives aren't always great. I agree that if there "were strings attached" that is wrong.
    I think just being a church that opened it's doors to sponsor this event would make an impression. Unfortunately, with our "fear" based belief systems, there is this "urgency" to "save" the world. Sometimes, we have a hard time just being a friend to someone, and share our lives (which would share our beliefs) in a respectable way.
    It is sad that suspicion of agenda's even have to enter the picture.

  • At 3/28/2007 03:24:00 PM, Blogger Linda

    I also have mixed feelings. Certainly a "bait and switch" is wrong, but I wonder if sharing the love of Jesus through words (or in this case, lyrics) is always wrong. Sometimes people want to talk about spiritual things and don't feel comfortable coming to a church to do so. And sometimes they want to talk with Regular Joes and Josephines rather than pastorly types. A ministry/charity that uses volunteers can offer such a thing.

    I help with a food pantry run largely by my church. People who walk through the door know they are coming into a church. They are courteously and respectfully treated by all volunteers. We interview each new person and tell them about the various forms of support available in the building which are a mixture of things offered by the city and various Christian ministries. We also offer to pray for them if they want it. For those that don't want prayer, we never make them feel bad. We try to discover needs other than food and refer them to appropriate services and ministries. Many of the people who return to the pantry and are not required to be interviewed request a meeting with a volunteer who will listen to their struggles and pray with them.

    Whenever we can, we try to establish the beginnings of genuine friendship. Often, people are simply waiting for an opening to unburden themselves and receive some emotional support. Many of these times they also want to talk about the role God plays (or doesn't play) in their lives. As volunteers, we major in listening and offer very little "advice." It has been a rare thing that any volunteer has shared the gospel in a typically evangelical way. And on the occasions when volunteers talk about following Jesus, it is because the person's questions led the volunteer in such a direction.

    Finally, I agree with Michele (I think it was Michele) that when churches operate out of fear and an urgency to get people to Pray the Prayer, the real gospel is lost in the process. I just think there's a way to make the gospel of Christ a pleasing aroma rather than the stench that the stereotypical Christian makes it. It sounds to me, though, as if the woman who was offended by the Christian music had had quite a bit of stench previously from the Christian world. Perhaps it was still lingering in her nostrils when she came to receive clothing.

  • At 3/28/2007 06:52:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Beautifully put, Linda.

  • At 3/29/2007 03:30:00 PM, Blogger Marcia

    You know, every time I come back to Emerging Women, I realize why I don't stay.

    I guess I just have a completely different perspective than you all--I don't mean that you are wrong; it's not my place to say that. But I don't, well, get you.

    This church was providing a needed space for women who needed help. They can't play their own music there? The woman who approached was willing to take what was offered, but offended by the environment of the place offering it?

    I guess I just feel she should have been more appreciative of the opportunity and tuned the music out if she wasn't interested. Heck, I tune music out all the time when it's some Top-40 type garbage playing overhead.

    If it was the church's intention to try to evangelize through music, it's sort of laughable. It certainly wouldn't have been the way I would have approached it.

    I can't fathom the offense taken, though. And probably that's just me.

  • At 3/29/2007 03:32:00 PM, Blogger Marcia

    Oops, Janice, I did like what you said. Especially this:

    I'm sure its a pretty crappy feeling when you're trying to do something nice and all people could do was complain the music.

  • At 3/29/2007 04:36:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Marcia, nice to see you! Hope you are doing well.

  • At 3/29/2007 06:07:00 PM, Blogger Marcia

    Hey, Jemila, thanks.

    I'm as well as a screwed-up chick who needs to deconstruct but is too afraid to do it can be. : )

  • At 3/29/2007 09:19:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Hey Marcia,

    This sounds like a cool line from a book or movie script:

    "I'm as well as a screwed-up chick who needs to deconstruct but is too afraid to do it can be. : )"

    Have you considered writing?

    Anyway, we're all on a journey. Sending a prayer your way :)

  • At 3/30/2007 09:09:00 AM, Blogger Marcia

    Hi Jemila--I do write a blog, and some of my readers have suggested I write a book.

    I even have one in mind; the audience would be the smart, funny, warm women I've met online who are trapped in patriarchy because they believe it is God's will.

    Basically I want to look at the verses that supposedly validate that sort of lifestyle, take them back to the language and society of the time, and explain why living in that manner is, in fact, not mandated.

    I've spent time in those trenches, and these women carry an incredible burden--not just from a literal standpoint (how many patriarchs does it take to change a lightbulb? One-- he holds onto it and the house revolves around him.) but also from a spiritual one. The load of guilt if she fails in her mind is tremendous, and even having thoughts of not wanting to live like that are considered sinful. I have "seen" (online) really intelligent women who are being stifled, smothered, and when they communicate these thoughts, they are told they are out of God's will.

    Writing a book, though, is somewhat overwhelming. Does anyone else want to take this one? : ) It really does need to be written.

    I realize this is completely off topic, so if it needs to be moved or deleted, that's cool.

  • At 3/30/2007 10:12:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Marcia, I think there are some books out there that address those issues, such as "Ten Lies the Church Tells Women," but I'm not sure how funny they are...and sometimes being able to laugh at ourselves, our circumstances and life generally is just the release we need to see life and ourselves in a whole new light. So I'd say research what's out there and then find where you can make a unique contribution. You could always start with an article and then see if you want to expand it into a book. Best of luck!

  • At 3/30/2007 10:27:00 AM, Blogger Janice


    I can relate. I guess there's just a really wide variety of women here with lots of different experiences, perspectives, and goals......and some are more focal than others. I hope you'll continue to read and also comment. I think real growth and understanding will only come through the cooperative efforts of women from those different perspectives. The conversation needs a measure of diverse input. (IMO)

  • At 3/30/2007 10:29:00 AM, Blogger Janice

    OOPS, should be more 'vocal' -- not 'focal'.

  • At 3/30/2007 11:19:00 AM, Blogger Marcia

    Focal, vocal--both of those things.

    I'll try, Janice. As I said, it's not that I think I'm right all the time; I sometimes just have a hard time understanding different perspectives.

    Jemila, my thought is that there has not been a book written from the viewpoint of someone who used to believe that crap, is there?

  • At 3/30/2007 11:54:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    Hang in there! When I first came to this blog, I have to say I felt weird about a lot of concepts, felt out of my league, felt maybe I came to a place "I shouldn't be". I have learned a lot from being here. When I blog here, I take the decription "literally"...in the sense that I think it is a "safe" place to do "X". Part of being a safe place is that I try to bring with me a sensitive heart for other views. I know we are not always perfect at this, especially if emotions are fueled.
    Personally, the times I come across maybe a little "burned", is more than likely because something in my "personal" world is "off". However, I know I can be here, and be "me". Maybe it is because it is virtual, we're so scattered all over, I don't have to have face to face moments...and if it gets to be too much...I can leave it behind me.
    Whatever it is, this has been a great place (personally) for inspiration, challenge, comfort, etc.
    I have probably read like 50+ books in the last year. Sometimes, I am reading 3 at a time on different topics! Last week I borrowed 7 different DVD's from the library about church history, Jesus, Bible translation and scholarship, etc. I am facinated. If it weren't for "the differing thoughts" and "differing views" I would have never felt compelled to "go on this journey".
    I would have still be surrounded with "like minded" friends and family...and for me, would have continued a "dead faith"!
    All of this has rolled into my daily life. I view "people" so differently than I did. I experience a depth to life, I hadn't before. My stereotypes and judgements have changed drastically. I am trying to become a person who is more focused on the "positive".

    So again....maybe step back and realize that this opportunity can mean many different things. Even if it challenges your thinking, and you come out stronger and know why you feel strong about it, then great! This is not meant to be a place to "brain wash" or for people to feel threatened. I think the discomfort leads us to new places! Take Care!

  • At 3/30/2007 11:59:00 AM, Blogger Marcia

    Hey Michele--thanks for typing all that out; I appreciate it.

    Part of my apprehension comes from inside me-I've already challenged so many of my own beliefs that I can't listen to anything else I don't agree with!! It's too hard and scary.

    And, well, I'm intimidated by strong, smart women. It's as though they're in a secret club or something. ; )

    Keep all that in mind if I post more--I'm the screwed-up one, not you all.

  • At 3/30/2007 12:20:00 PM, Blogger Janice

    Marcia, you're not screwed up. Not any more than anyone else here. I've read your blog - you're a smart and strong woman. And hmmmm........probably very opinionated...? (as I said, I've read your blog - I love it). You shoot straight from the hip with a good wit. When I read this particular topic and the initial responses, I felt just like you. My initial comment was typed and backspaced, typed and backspaced -- several times.........before I hit post. I guess the challenge, for me, is recognizing that I'm going to think some things are 'non-issues' and some things are stupid or wrong or over-reactions or hypersensitive or whatever....but they are issues for others and as Michele mentioned, this is a 'safe' place. So everyone gets to share, WHICH MEANS, you get to say your thoughts too, and I get to say mine. . . and chances are there are those out there who DO agree with you, even if they don't post....and ALL of us get to think a bit about the topics from more than one point of view. I may walk away still thinking someone is overly hypersensitive about something that is really stooopid but chances are I come away 'better' somehow with a better grip on the world around me by at least listening....sharing in someone elses life, pain, experience. /end ramble...

  • At 3/30/2007 02:19:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Marcia, I'm so glad you decided to come back :) I really respect you for owning your fears -- we all have them and we all have our points where we feel like we can't take the deconstruction anymore or who will we be? What will be left? Is God judging us for not believing or acting "properly" or orthodoxly enough? The patriarchal idol dies hard, as well as all the other idols many of us here have recognized in our hearts.

    I think one reason it's so important for people with different (visceral) perspectives to seek to listen and befriend one another is because Jesus' strong prayer was for us to be one, even as we are so different.

    It's hard when people's strong opinions conflict, and I think it helps us all if we can step back, as you set a great example of doing, and ask, "why am I threatened by this?" Because once we can transcend our fears a bit, we can truly enrich one another's journeys and build up the body of God's love in the world.

    RE books, I'm guessing that many have been written by "people who used to believe that crap," but I don't know how much personal experience is integrated into those texts. I think the majority of us here used to (and maybe somewhere in our pysches still do) believe "that crap," but I think a memoir-style book with all the necessary scholarship made fun and accessible would be great!

  • At 3/30/2007 03:27:00 PM, Blogger Linda


    My own experience and personality naturally lead me to reject almost everything associated with my former faith. (I love deconstructing!) But one of the reasons I read and interact with EW (and a couple of other blogs) is that I know the breadth of viewpoints out there will keep me from becoming completely reactive if I can discipline myself to the kind of empathy that each commenter/poster deserves. I want to keep Jesus the center and everything else secondary. For those secondary issues, I need to know what others think even if I think differently. It helps me to more fully participate in the Oneness of the body while better loving and understanding those who differ with me.

    As for the book about patriarchy, have you thought about interviewing various women who have lived under patriarchalism and escaped it? I think that would be a fascinating read. I would buy it!

  • At 3/30/2007 04:08:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    a bit late to the conversation here...

    I know I've been offended when I've gone into a retail store and they were playing music full of a lot of curse words (which I usually don't have an issue with). I mean it was a Hot Topic - so death metal was fairly appropriate, but it was still offensive.

    I've been offended when songs that worship America were sung in church. For many that is appropriate - patriotism and civil religion being a prerequisite for being considered a Christian in the USA. But I still didn't enjoy idol worship in church.

    I was offended when Nick Jr. put Justin Timberlake singing "Sexy Back" on right before Dora the Explorer. I mean, he is hosting the Kids Choice awards, but I still found it offensive.

    So I see no issue with people being offended at having stuff they disagree with pushed in their face. The church has the right to do it, I just don't think they should be surprised that it offends people or that it turns people off.

  • At 3/30/2007 05:49:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    Marcia, thanks for sticking it out. And thanks for being willing to state your mind (you, too, Janice)!

    I think anytime we come together and can't do that, we've just lost the opportunity to grow by better understanding the other.

    When I initially read the post, the thing that came to mind was the purpose behind the actions. For me, although I wouldn't have walked away from the situation angry, it did challenge me as to how I wanted to "be" a Christian in my world of operation. Playing christian music for the purpose of providing encouragement or just as what the church does (i.e., turn it on first thing in the morning and use for background music) is something that doesn't bother me. The concept of using it to "win" people just doesn't work for me.

    I have no clue the motivation of the churc in this example, but the situation helped me think through how I want to do things.

    Thanks to all who have given perspective and can still give each other a cyber "pat on the back" at the end of the conversation. I appreciate you!

  • At 3/30/2007 08:49:00 PM, Blogger Janice

    Amy, I appreciate your comments - things like this DO give us an opportunity to examine our own actions and as Michelle said (I think it was Michelle) sometimes come away stronger in our present beliefs, and sometimes what we allow to ferment ends up changing our beliefs for the better.

    Thanks Julie for sharing your thoughts too . . . I am once again struck by how different things can be in different places - singing patriotic songs in some churches is a form of idol worship, for others its nothing more than 'simple patriotism' or thanks/gratefulness...or celebration the same as singing Happy Birthday to someone (which we had the pleasure to do as a congregation for one of our age 90+ members recently! I really appreciate that about our new pastor)....anyway, Julie, you remind me again how very very different are the experiences of women in America. Thats a good thing.

  • At 4/20/2007 04:28:00 PM, Blogger Magess

    Hello. I'm new to this blog site, and I'm amazed at finally finding people who have questions, and like to explore answers, just like me.
    I found this topic interesting, and I , too, found myself examining my motives. I love music, and would not have thought twice about it being played in a church basement, no matter what the event. However, the thought that maybe there was another motive,well...I find that unsettling.
    I want to learn how to love, and give, without wanting stuff in return.
    The question that I have....what if we walk into a store that is blaring nasty music...maybe it's time to start speaking up about it, instead of swallowing it?
    Just a thought.


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