There are a lot of Christians down here. Part of what made me eager to join up with the Red Cross was that it’s officially secular. But being part of the New York City chapter didn’t prepare me for how much of the national volunteer base is made up of Christians. You know, Christians — you can’t walk down an aisle in our barracks without stepping on someone reading their bible or psalm book.
That’s not to mention some of the other organizations we share our barracks with, like the teens and young adults in their orange “PRCompassion.org” (Pastoral Resources) T-shirts, or the large group of Scientologists in their yellow T-shirts (though I guess technically they’re not Christians).
I probably should have known it would be like this — as Red Cross relief workers, we do all wear crosses on our backs.
Most of the older volunteers I’ve met (and there are a lot of them) — besides tending to be non-urban — are regular churchgoers. The subject comes up frequently: how their church group does so and so, or this was “meant to be,” or “I feel blessed” about that, and so on. And of course our clients — Mississippians, black and white — are the same way. I can’t tell you how many times people have said, “God bless you” to me as they’ve walked away with their plates of food. This is Red State Central, after all.
I confess to feeling a bit weird about it all. Being around all these folks makes me realize how “urbanized” I am. Living in the Big Apple, you tend to forget how homogenous much of the rest of the U.S. is. I’m used to being around people of all different ethnic backgrounds and cultural traditions, and you really feel the lack of it here. As a youngish, liberal arts-trained Jewish guy, I just feel different.
Besides all that, I’ve always been irredeemably anti-organized religion, but I have to admit being touched by all these volunteers, joined together by faith, willing to come down en masse to help others, just like J.C. recommends they do.
At the same time, there’s something creepy about the culture the Christians seem to embody. Like they’re all part of this secret club where they communicate in code words, Despite it being all so… square, I detect is a kind of subtle smugness about them. It’s like they know everything’s been pre-determined (“meant to be”), so there’s no need to become too emotionally involved. It’s all part and parcel of the heartland ethic, I suppose, to rub yourself so smooth there are no edges left at all. Brrrr. It gets to me after awhile. Thank god (ha!) I’ve been able to hook up here and there with some younger folks, people in their 20s, who are a lot more “hip.”
But I don’t want to come across as a complete East Coast elitist. In the end, what it’s all about down here is helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina. And at the end of the day, the Christians are the ones walking the walk. I have to ask: where are my fellow descendants of Abraham? Last week, the bulletin board did list Yom Kippur services, so there must be a couple of us…
Something to ponder on my day off. Which is today.
Which I’ll be spending in New Orleans.