I “emerged” in an unlikely environment. Just a few notches away from the buckle of the Bible Belt, my hometown of Dayton Tennessee made a name for itself back in 1925 when the Scopes Monkey Trial put it on the map as the last great bastion of conservative fundamentalism. Not a whole lot has changed since then, so my “Obama 08” buttons, AIDS awareness crusades, and shelf full of “liberal propaganda” by the likes of Brian McLaren and Tony Jones have been met with some skepticism and concern from friends and family. I’ve even made to a couple of church prayer request lists.
When I read about Emerging gatherings in big cities around the country, I find myself getting a little jealous. I long to fellowship with other women who want to break through the stained glass ceiling. I’d love to spend an evening in the company of fellow doubters and questioners and contrarians. I’d like to have an honest conversation without getting labeled a heretic. I’d like it if people got my jokes about postmodernism.
Of course it would be easier if I were within driving distance of a more progressive church, but I’ve decided that perhaps it wouldn’t be better. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m beginning to learn that sometimes the best community is the one in which you don’t really fit. Folks around here won’t let me get away with hypocrisy or faulty arguments. They keep me on my toes and pray for me even when I think I don’t need it. They have inadvertently taught me the spiritual disciples of patience and self-control, and I find myself getting better and better at holding my tongue and thinking before I speak. As it turns out, not all opinions have to be expressed, and sometimes unity is more important than winning a debate.
While I have not plans to return to my fundamentalist roots, Monkey Town has taught me not to get too comfortable. Community doesn’t mean surrounding yourself with people with whom you agree. It means surrounding yourself with whoever is there.
I’d love to hear from others who have embarked on faith journeys from unusual locations. I welcome your thoughts here or on my “Evolving in Monkey Town