a major contributing factor to the relationship enigma has to be our language. not accent, language (our accent creates a whole other set of issues). when i moved to oklahoma from california, i added several words/conjunctions to my vocabulary almost immediately. here are a few examples:
fixin: means “preparing to”
wallered out: means “the interior diameter has been expanded”
all bidness: (just sound it our phonetically) means “oil business”
kin or kinfolk: means “relatives”
overe: (pronounced exactly like “ovarian cancer” without the “ian cancer”) means “over there”
for the record, you don’t have to use bible-belt words to be able to communicate with us, but you do have to understand them. even with the lingo, however, there are a few more rules you will need to understand.
1. we wave at each other. you will always get a return wave from anyone driving a pick-up.
2. we’ll be glad to share a meal with you, but we like fried things. like okra. and chicken-fried chicken (although that may seem redundant to you). and make sure the fish is fried. we know that some people like sushi, but to us, it’s bait…we use it to catch fish you can fry. sometimes we even eat calf fries (look it up), squirrel (a rodent with a fluffy tail), and most anything else as long you fry it and put peppered cream gravy on it.
3. we are friendly to a fault. we open doors for women, no matter the circumstance. coffee shops, beauty shops, and lumber yards are for visiting (another word for “conversation”), even more so than for hot beverages, haircuts, and building materials. people in the bible belt still sit out on their front porches (even in the heat of summer) and wave at passing cars.
friendliness, however, is a poor substitute for friendship. and this is the major problem when it comes to making real connections in the bible belt.
i’m not saying it cannot be done. i know of groups here that enjoy real biblical community. i have several close, intimate friends but those relationships did not develop naturally, they had to be ruthlessly cultivated. in the bible belt, one normally has many acquaintances and few friends. i remember my dad making an insightful comment when we first moved here. he said, “everybody says, ‘come see us’ but no one ever gets around to giving you their address.”
why don’t we share? what are we trying to hide?
this aversion to intimacy (my diagnosis) undermines the effectiveness of the church’s mission, and marginalizes the church experience for lonely people in a lonely culture. i believe the unchurched would be drawn to a group of people who are transparent and vulnerable with each other. jesus said that we represent him accurately when we genuinely love each other (john 13:35). and we fulfill the law of christ when we are aware of, and willingly share, each other’s burdens (galatians 6:2). i believe that the church is responsible for meeting the gnawing social emptiness plaguing our society, and that will require way more than a hand shake and a smile.
we may actually have to share our addresses.