unbuckling the bible belt – part four

one of the queerest things about the bible belt is the way we do interpersonal relationships.

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.


2 thoughts on “unbuckling the bible belt – part four

  1. randy, it’s interesting because, growing up in south alabama, i feel like true friendships are one of the things we actually have going for us. there’s the visitation bit you speak of, but there also seem to be legitimately deep relationships that are formed naturally. actually, when i think about churches that don’t have this is south alabama, it seems usually to be the church itself that stands apart in the community as not possessing such. i wonder if it has to do mostly with size?

    have you every read much about dunbar’s number? basically he says humans possess the brain power to live in communities of up to 150 — and that when our groups become bigger than that, the sense of community falls apart. we simply can’t grasp interpersonal relationships of more than about that number. so we form smaller schisms and the like.

    i can’t tell you how many squirrels and raccoons i’ve eaten in my life…

    • we are a small church, and we “do life together” in even smaller groups. and some of them are successful at achieving that elusive yet priceless place i call “biblical community”…where they really know each other and share in each others lives.

      sadly, most never get there. it just costs too much.

      everyone who visits our fellowship tells me that we are the friendliest church they’ve ever attended. naturally, that makes me proud. still, i long for a deeper fellowship–like the one i enjoy with my accountability group. a fellowship where believers choose to live sacrificially for the sake of each other and the sake of their neighbors…and they do it joyfully (that’s how i would define “true friendships”).

      it just seems like people in this part of the world are closed off–resistant to the idea of going there. i may be chasing a pipe dream, but that’s the type of church i want to lead.

      and i’m really sorry about the squirrels and racoons.

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