Monday, September 17, 2012

Homegrown Spirituality, and Core Beliefs

I need to get this "religion and manners" thing off my chest, so please ignore reading it if you are so inclined.

I was raised in Southern Baptist churches, although I quit them 40 years ago thanks to a differing belief in prejudice, compassion, understanding and caring. Since then I have explored many of the world's religions, and none entirely fit the bill. So for many years, my spirituality has been homegrown, taking in bits and pieces that resonated from diverse world religions.

I'm quite content with the beliefs and serenity I have found, for they sustain me.

However, my point in this post is NOT about a belief system, but actions by the people and institutions that profess them, and how (or not) they act on them. 

In the common urge of mankind to want to meet like-minded people, I recently decided that I'd explore the local Universalist Unitarian Church because they accept and honor people of all faiths, and individually they practice (much as I do) in adopting bits and pieces of each.

However, I've now given some thought to the experience of the UU church I attended recently, and whether my experience was just limited to church. The very few (less than a dozen) congregation members there on a holiday weekend seemed to know each other to some degree, and surely my face was unfamiliar to all of them, and stood out in such a small gatherting. Yet not a single person came up to me with a smile and an introduction, or thanks for being here, or please come back... yada, yada... NADA. (Nor was there any recognition of visitors during the service.)

How can people make us feel like pariahs (or at least feel invisible) when they've never even spoken to us, and yet acclaim they are open and accepting?

Do you think it was my werewolf costume? (Just kidding!)

In the churches of my youth, no visitor would have gone without being greeted and acknowledged, but was that because of the actual beliefs of the congregation, or simply how people acted back then?

I don't know if all my core beliefs about behavior are based solely on my spiritual beliefs, but I don't know that I could separate them, either. Many are just how I was raised. They are all a part of who I am.

My question is: Does this recent experience speak of a general (global) trend away from being friendly and welcoming to folks we don't know (in our houses of worship, in our community, in our immediate neighborhood, and in public gatherings)? Have we become so frightened of Strangers? And, am I guilty too, on some level? Are we truly living in a society so self-absorbed that nobody cares?

I was living in this house I now call home for 2 years before a neighbor brought a (welcoming?) gift of some home-canned tomato juice, and I think that was only because I had left some cut flowers on her doorstep 2 weeks before. The only neighbors I know well have never invited me to share a meal, even on holidays like Thanksgiving when they knew I was living alone with no family nearby (before my sis and her grown kid arrived), and they always had gobs of family AND friends coming off and on all day for the feast. 

When I moved here, I really expected that despite being rural (or maybe because of it) in the first 1-3 months of being here, someone would stop by with a casserole or a pie and welcome me to the neighborhood, since there are almost never any newcomers. It never happened.

I've hosted many a Thanksgiving dinner where I invited all the strays I knew, whether college students who couldn't go home for the holiday when I lived in Boone, or single people with no family when I lived in Atlanta. It always made me feel good to share.

What has happened to us?


  1. Good question, Darius -- and I don't know the answer. I do think that cultural norms have changed -- perhaps because our lives are so scattered and distracted these days. It used to be that people lived, worked, played, and went to church with a fairly cohesive group of people. That is no longer true. I know my 'friends' include people from all over the world, some of whom I've only met via the internet, and I spend more time communicating with them than with the next door neighbors. As we return to a more localized economies, I expect that we will return to more cohesive communities as well -- and, if one is to believe D Orlov, that will happen naturally and cannot be forced. But maybe it can be encouraged . . :-)

    PS I'm sorry you did not receive a warmer welcome from the UU church. I have found that congregations each have a unique dynamic, so don't judge all by the one.

  2. I think, overall, hospitality skills have been lost. I know in m own case, my mother wasn't a very social person, so I was not taught how to be a good neighbor or guest. It's something I've had to teach myself & it still doesn't come naturally. The idea of a welcome gift to a new neighbor has never even occurred to me. And many of my neighbors here have very different 'lifestyles' (like shooting guns off the back porch while having a party) so I'm not inclined to get to know them better. But I think there are a couple of neighbors I might practice these skills with.

    As far as religious groups, it does seem to vary. I know that in my experience of the Buddhist community, there are some groups that put an emphasis on greeting & meeting, & other groups that don't. In part it has to do w/the particular people (all these groups are quite tiny) & in part it has to do w/their emphasis on getting new members. The greater them emphasis on growing the membership, the more likely I will be greeted in a friendly manner.

    Our highly mobile society, combined w/the information overload I think may also contribute to the meet & greet *gaias daughter* I now have iFriends I'll never meet face-to-face & have more in common w/than many of my neighbors. Which is to say, I've put myself into a nice, safe box. Hmmm...

  3. i'm sorry that happened. :-( in some of the newer evangelical churches its kind of the opposite - some new folks are afraid of being made to stand up in front of everyone, being swarmed, or having someone show up at their the "outreach" is handled differently. for instance in my church everyone is welcomed by greeters when they arrive. then the pastor welcomes everyone, including new comers, from the pulpit and invites the new folks to come to a meeting point and say hello. he asks that people who brought visitors go with them, in case they are shy. at the meeting point the church provide a gift, a warm welcome, a chat with the pastor, and encourage new folks to get involved in home community groups. you can sign up for an email newsletter, a facebook page, and ask for specific help in a variety of areas. we love this approach and it works well - especially for folks who have no prior religious experience.

    and i have a hilarious story about some over zealous folks from a very conservative church who showed up, intending to be friendly, but who got an eyeful when they caught me out in the yard not...ahem.. entirely ready for visitors. we've since put up a gate but i'm sure they are still talking about it! ha!

  4. I've just visited a very small Southern Baptist Church where I was welcomed with open arms. It really felt old fashioned. Then again the average age must have been 70. It was the exception compared to other churches. One had an official hug your neighbor part of the service that sure seemed artificial. Part of the breakdown of society has to be that we just keep moving and changing houses. I'm use to having new neighbors every other year.

  5. Darius, the more I think about your post, the more I realize that I need to reach out to others more often. I have missed opportunities to meet new neighbors and greet newcomers whatever the venue. But that can change . . . :-)

  6. This is an interesting post, especially in due of the fact I am currently reading Wes Jackson's Rooted in the Land after finishing his Becoming Native to this Place.

    We were the 6th house built on this road 30 years ago. The neighbors were very welcoming, and we used to all do sleigh rides and potlucks. Then divorce, old age, etc. occurred and it all stopped. Though 3 of us still live here, the road now boasts 18 houses.

    I went to each of the first new people with gifts of fresh bread and welcome, but it was never reciprocated. Then I got sick and could not do it any more. We speak to 7 of our neighbors when we see them, and are more engaged with only 3 of those. But none I would really call friends.

    I would really love a more intimate community to be part of. I am an introvert by nature and am dealing with chronic illness. I do as much as I am able to foster such a community, but it's mostly uphill going. I do hope the future does bring about changes in this area.

    Around here, there is a LOT of enthusiasm for local farming and the beginnings of building community. But sad to say, if one has chronic illness, they often get left behind.

    As far as your question, here in New England, I suspect it has more to do with being independent, but I suspect there's elements of the other things you mentioned.

    As an example, we had a huge freak snowstorm early last October that took power out on the end of our road for 8 days. We are set-up here on our farm so it did not affect us much. We got our power back after 4 days. We offered, from the beginning, hot showers, warmth, hot meals to all our less fortunate neighbors. One neighbor came and used our shower once. That was it. It just seemed silly to me, for them not to be more comfortable.

    Regarding the UU church, we often attended events at a local UU church. We are not church goers, and like you, have developed our own homegrown beliefs. But the church we went to events at had a greeter for those events and was pretty open and welcoming. So I do think it's sort of something different for each church. And the average age at ours was probably 65-70.

    I do look forward to more community emerging, especially in rural small town places like where we live.

  7. Our church makes a point to connect with people...and to help people connect with each other with lots of small groups, in-home meetings, etc., available. And it's working in such a way that you don't feel like you're crashing someone elses "clique" if you are new and want to participate.

    I really think that there are different "cultures" everywhere you go - in the church or in the community. There are just some folks we won't fit with...but don't give up! My "guess" is that this is something God has put in your heart and He's going to connect you with the right folks and place.

    Leah's Mom

    1. Oh, I'll go back to that church now that the regular schedule is back. It's my best bet for finding like-minded people in this area, and the emails from the pastor have been very encouraging.

  8. Darius, in the words of an old friend of mine, some folks just have no "fetchin' up"! I doubt that your experience was a common feature of the UU church or, perhaps, even that congregation but, rather, the poor manners of that small group of people. My guess that you'll find you have little in common with them even after they deign to speak to you.

    Unfortunately, our experience in rural North Idaho has been very similar to what you report. When we first moved here 21 years ago, only one neighbor came to welcome us with a jar of jam, and we later found out that she only did that because she was the neighborhood gossip and wanted to have all the latest tidbits to share about the new folks at the end of the road! I can't tell you the number of times we've invited people over for dinner and never received a reciprocal invitation. I like to think it's because my culinary talents are so overwhelming that folks are afraid of negative comparisons!

    Unfortunately, I think it's just because good manners and etiquette are not emphasized in our society anymore. I'm not saying we all need to know which fork to use for the oyster course, but knowing that a written "thank you" card (NOT an email!) is appropriate for your hostess after an evening spent in her home would not be a bad thing!

    On the other hand, we have made wonderful friends here who have been a great blessing in our lives so, all in all, I suppose it balances out. After all, how many urban/suburban dwellers really know their neighbors? Maybe folks are just folks wherever you go, and you just have to be glad when you encounter the good and feel sorry for the rest.


I'd love to hear what you think about my posts! We all learn together.