Facing the Giants
Jesus In My Image: Rickie Lee Jones and The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard

The Irrepressible Self

SameWe were not really the Midwest, my father explained; that would be Iowa or Nebraska, Kansas --- hopeless places. We were the Upper Midwest, as the weaterman said, elevating us above the dreary mean. My father pointed with derision at the cars with Iowa license plates, hauling boats on trailers behind them, as we passed them on Highway 200 going north. "Will you look at that," he said, "Those Iowa people have to lug that boat all the way up here." My brother and I looked at the dummies in the Iowa car as we passed. "They're crazy to get to the water, they"ll even fish in the middle of the day," he said, as if the Iowa Bedouins were so water mad that a school of walleye could toy with them in the noon heat, while my father cooly appeared at dawn and twilight to make the easy Minnesota-savvy kill. He pointed out to us, over and over, the folly of the Iowans and their pathetic pursuit of standing water.

(Patricia Hampl, from A Romantic Education)

While we often lament the homogenization of culture, how a certain sameness permeates our country no matter where we go, I think the drive toward inviduality is irrepressible. Take Patricia Hampl's humorous memory of growing up in Minnesota, for example. Is it any doubt that Minnesotans are way, way different from Iowans, even if they look and act the same to us in the South? It's as if someone referred to "Carolina" as if South and North Carolina are one and the same place. No way. No matter how much the same things are, people and groups, states and cities and towns, even neighborhoods, find ways to differentiate themselves. I think it's creational, and I think it's something we can celebrate in a time when pop culture is so omnipresent, when the same big-box stores and chain restaurants are around every corner. And while there is an ugly side of it that we need avoid, we should rejoice in the good. (Like any good gift of God, this diversity and tendency toward differentiation can be divisive and ugly and perverted.)

Take denominationalism. You are Baptist. I am Presbyterian. Or maybe you like liturgy and historic forms in worship. I like more spontaneous worship. You come to take notes, to learn, and to take away something relevant. I come to praise God, to experience. These things are driven by our personalities, the primary impulse we have when it comes to that organic thing called the Body of Christ and the corporate experience (oops, there's that word) of worship. Really, it's a beautiful thing to see this diversity, and yet we can use it as a divisive thing when pride comes in. Like people from Minnesota thinking the Iowans dumb, we may regard folks in another denomination as misguided or, worse, as heretical. It's not that the differences aren't important or that they need to be smoothed over in niceness, just that we are called to be humble and loving in discussing our differences.

Really, there is a tension here: One impulse we have is to be like one another, to identify with each other, and yet the competing impulse is to differentiate ourselves from each other. We are alike, and yet we are not the same. It makes life interesting.

So what am I really saying? Just this: That people in Iowa may really be stupid to live where they do, but what I want to know is what that says about people who live in Minnesota. (Minnesotans, let me hear from you!)