Tuesday, July 05, 2005

strangers on trains

Since I relayed that very dismal train conversation I was inadvertently party to this past Sunday, I thought I would relate another little train vignette from the week before. This time I was by myself, and I had managed to get to Penn Station in time to catch the 8:03 express rather than the 8:14 local, which I was very happy about. But it turns out that the 8:03 express train to Trenton is very popular train indeed on Sunday nights, and this particular night it was packed. Not China-crowded or even Italy-crowded, but, you know, American sensibilities regarding personal space were being infringed upon everywhere you looked. So I snagged a seat fairly easily, being by myself, and was settled in before the crowds hit my train car, placidly ignoring the frantic and ruthless competition for seats by the hapless folk around me, reading Catherine of Siena's _Dialogue_. Pretty soon, the seat next to me is taken by a dark-haired woman about my age, whose companion, an extremely large woman carrying a fairly large (though apparently not heavy) box, sat in the aisle on the box. She was sporting a sticker on her blouse that said "Go Queer" and from the chatter, I think they had just come from a march of some sort. Anyway, pretty soon they noticed that I was reading a medieval woman mystic and, whoosh!, the conversation begins. Women's bodies, mystical experiences, religious experiences, religion, science, our respective religious upbringings and rebellions, and where we find ourselves now. It turns out that these two fascinating women are Unitarian Universalist, which I know next to nothing about, because while they rejected religious dogmatism, they didn't at all reject spirituality. It wasn't a deep conversation, but one of those very wide conversations of the sort you can really only have with strangers on trains.

It was relaxing to me. I'm sure that had we talked longer we'd've found things to disagree about, and perhaps the momentary camaraderie (thanks to Dr. Burks for making it impossible to type this word without flashbacks to Harding chapel) would have ended. But it was pretty liberating to discuss opinions and experiences candidly without worrying about how your audience will react to them. I can't talk to members of my own tradition like that. Which means the question we should all be asking of ourselves right now is, why the hell not?

It could be my problem. I've admitted before on this blog that part of its raison d'etre is practice finding my voice--despite the bravado of the title I'm not at all comfortable with actually being rude. I think over the last couple months I've achieved rudeness a few times, and so I think I'm making progress. But still: progress in the blogosphere doesn't easily translate into boldness in the personal sphere. So it could be my problem. I find myself wrapped up in anticipating who will think what and say what and what they will then think of me after they know what I really think about whatever. It's paralyzing.

But it could also be "their" problem. Why am I so paranoid about how what I say or think will be received? Why is contemplating that an occasion of dread? Quite possibly because it's something legitimately dreaded, because "they" can be quite dreadful. But "they" is also the "we" that, for better or worse, I have cast my lot with...so, in all honesty, it comes back to being my problem, doesn't it?

Well, I'm sure this little dilemma will come up again sometime. In the meantime, here's a bit of wisdom from my mother: "Jesus told us to be salt, not sugar." Amen. Preach it, Ma!


Anonymous said...

When did ideas and education become deadly to religion? I once sat through a presentation by a couple of missionaries from North Carolina, both of whom declared to appreciate "vanilla preachers" (those with no formal education)to "tooty-fruity preachers" (those with degrees or formal training, as you have connected the dots by now). I squirmed in my seat, as did my spouse, but we were the only two present that felt the slight.

JTB said...

yes...i think it has a lot to do with the "democratization" of American Xny (there is a great book by this title by Nathan O. Hatch if you're interested), the idea that Xny belongs to everyone and therefore no special training or education is required. from there it's a small step to assuming that education/training is a hindrance, an obstacle to the real understanding of faith.

yay! thanks for commenting! you made my day!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jen,

I've decided to venture out and comment on someone else's blog besides Joe's :) I remember someone telling me once that being an "adult" seems to mean learning to hold back emotions, be careful of what we say, etc...and commenting on how unattractive the prospect of adulthood was. I wish we were allowed to be less adults and more candid with our thoughts, opinions, feelings, questions, etc...to be curious about everything without worry of censure, saying the wrong things, etc...I like Christ's recommendation that we be like children.


JTB said...

Regina! Yay! This is such an affirmative post for me, who knew? I just thought I was babbling again. Maybe I should try that more often!

I like this way of thinking about "childlikeness." I've never liked the interpretation of the shut-up-and-believe-it sort, or the "little kids will believe anything" sort. Pretty much an injunction to turn off the ol' gray matter for Christ. But this one I can handle.

gotta go, have to catch a plane today and all! Have fun on Sunday in DC!!!

Anonymous said...

hi...stumbled onto your blog via Marty's site, and i just wanted to say, "bravo!" i've been enjoying your musings.

i used to like engaging in deep theological banters with friends and strangers (especially on the train), but lately, i've become really quiet and prefer hiding in a book and just listening.

i'd like to think it's because i'm reshaping my understanding of christ, but there's also the creeping guilt that i've become a wimp. let's just hope it's more of the former than the latter...

JTB said...

Hi Mina! Thanks so much for stopping by...and, really, if we all spent more time listening than blabbing the world would be a better place...