Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Solidarity or Bust

                                   

Note: I know that manufacturers, market-researchers and ad agencies the world over are sleeping uneasily as they await my next installment of "Analyze This." But, they'll have to wait a few more days.  Perhaps a couple of Tylenol PM would help?   ...As a relatively normal human being, I also have a life that includes activities other than shopping and purchasing, so here's a brief departure into that other realm...
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I haven't had much to say about church lately -- things are just as wacky there as they've ever been, with people departing almost as soon as they arrive, and other people deciding to stay, only to create new controversies and dramas. I stay because so many friends are there, but increasingly, my attitude has become a bit cynical. This is especially true of "experiences" that people in our denomination often rave about. We have an annual assembly that takes place in late June. I attended nearly six years ago and remember how utterly thrilled I was to festoon myself with buttons and badges, attend workshops, purchase overpriced keepsakes, and meet like-minded folks from elsewhere in the country. I won't be attending this year, and should I do so in the future, now wonder if it would be as much of a feel-good experience as it was back then. It makes me sad to think, probably not. "Been-there, done-that" basically sums it up. 

Last month I signed on to drive four of our teens to a weekend retreat in a spectacularly scenic section of the Southeast. We had perfect weather and few, if any, real problems. But I was trying to recover from some interpersonal drama that took place the week before, and while it was really nice to just "get outa Dodge," I was unable to summon the innocent wonder that mountains, birds, trees, lovely silence, and a total change of scenery would normally have elicited. It was too easy to notice the shabby and cramped condition of our cabin, the chronic muscle aches in my leg, the somewhat disorganized scheduling of events, and the cliched quality of the activities. I mean, "kumalata-kumalata-kumalata-veesta" was vintage back in my camp days, back when Lyndon Johnson was president, and it felt more hackneyed than nostalgic to sit uncomfortably cross-legged on the ground, clapping and swaying to guitar and bongo music. It also pissed me off that I couldn't get decent cell reception the whole weekend - the kids were too busy to notice that inconvenience, but I wasn't.

This past weekend, I was encouraged to attend an event in Nashville - it was a one-day affair, so there was no need to worry about overnight accommodations. Two other people went along with me, and one of them did the driving. All in all, it was significantly more fun and less hassle than the weekend retreat. But again, there was that "We're-such-a special-buncha-people-let's-celebrate-ourselves" attitude on the part of the organizers that set all of our teeth on edge. Toward the end of the event, it started to feel like one of those "team-building" things that corporations do to squeeze a few months' worth of enthusiasm out of their sales staff. 

The three of us, thankfully, were of like mind, so in two areas, we made a decision that didn't really line up with what the leaders were hoping for. We refused to volunteer for their "steering committee" -- a notion that made all of us want to throw up a little. We even remarked as to how we like applause as much as anyone else (much "hootin' and hollerin" ensued anytime someone from a congregation agreed to be on the committee), but would forgo it in exchange for a bit of autonomy. They applauded anyway. Oh, well...

It was at the very end that the most memorable and significant moment occurred. There's a particular religious-type word that one of our trio does not like and has consistently refused to use. It shows up in a lot of group agreements, and it really, truly is not necessary. There are many other words that work just as well, but our denomination has just fallen in love with this word and uses it whenever the opportunity arises. It was mentioned in the agenda, and TK, the member who objected, told us on the way there that he wondered what kind of pushback he'd be getting when he argued against the use of the word. My friend J and I were well aware of this issue with him, and didn't have any particular opinion about it, or any plans in mind at the beginning. But by the time we got to the conclusion of things, when we already felt there was a little too much peer pressure in the air to be healthy, we were not too surprised when the leader of the event basically blew off TK and his objections. This, after she had introduced this pre-written group agreement and invited us to change any wording we didn't like. TK was civilized and quiet and didn't make a big fuss; he simply stated his opinions.  The leader condescended, showed a distinct lack of respect for his views, and proceeded to ignore him as she continued reading the document, and then invited everyone who had participated to come up and sign our names to it. 

Normally, I'm sure J and I would have been perfectly willing to sign, but in solidarity with TK, we decided in the space of a second to stay in our seats and decline to sign. And oh, boy, did we get the pressure from others when they realized what we were doing. 

It's been about three days now, and I still have that indescribable feeling of having made the right decision, to go against the herd, on principle. I keep thinking about how much peer pressure there was at the meeting. I love my denomination, but this is an example of the streak of dysfunction that exists within it.

I guess resisting peer pressure is one of those actions that inform the life of a true adult. 
It beats the hell out of singin' around the campfire with a phony smile pasted on your face.