Friday, April 27, 2007

the fair mother city: part II


Every city in the southern US, both large and small, harbor the christian religious community in ways not found in the rest of the world. Church folks have their own radio stations, book stores, coffee houses, newspapers, even independently owned local Christian TV channels, and god knows what else.

And all of these southern US cities like to jokingly claim the title “buckle of the bible belt”. I’ve heard that about Tulsa, Nashville, Atlanta, Birmingham, etc. Abilene is no exception.

The fair mother city has some of its own unique additions to the Christian culture.

- Higher Education: To have three “liberal” arts universities in a city this size (116,000 pop) is rare. For those three to each be a) privately funded and thus b) religiously based, is unique, if not freaking weird. But such is life in these parts. The schools are (and here’s where the google traffic comes in): McMurry University (Methodist), Hardin-Simmons University (Baptist), and Abilene Christian University* (Church of Christ, or coc for short).

- Social graces: any culture will obviously bring out various social graces throughout the entire city. For example, in Abilene amongst middle class circles, it is very common to ask “where do you go to church?”**, usually followed right after asking a person’s name.

- Social standards: Each society has it’s own unwritten standards it lives by. One such local example is alcohol. Most Christian groups have a public aversion to alcohol. This is really funny since the first miracle of Jesus recorded in the book of John involves creating copious amounts of alcohol for a wedding party. As Obi-Wan can attest, old-time Baptists are convinced that the wine Jesus made “was different from today’s wine” as in, watered-down grape juice. I’m thinking, “Hell yeah it was different. No preservatives or man-made chemicals. Two sips and you were Drunky McDrunkard”. But that’s an entirely different agent report. It’s funny to visit big chain restaurants, like Chilis or Olive Garden and see so few people partake from the bar. Like they are afraid to be seen there. I guess I respect that in some sense (don’t cause the weaker brother to stumble, etc). But it still seems fake to a degree. Abilene has only allowed the legal sale of alcohol since 1978, a vote that passed something like 51% to 49%...

- Politics and government: If a community is mostly religious church-goers, and our nation’s political system is truly “of the people”, than it makes sense that our local policy makers would mostly be religious church people, complete with all of the social graces and standards like the few mentioned above. The fair mother city’s mayor and 2 of the 6 city counsel members are all from the same coc mega-church. It’s almost impossible to win a local election unless you’re a member of a large social club (church) within one of the popular local denominations (coc, Baptist, Methodist). ACU having 5000 students, plus (I’m guessing) 1000 or so faculty and staff, plus all of their family members, etc, it’s obvious why the coc has much political sway. Ironically, the Baptists far outnumber the coc’s. But their quest for power involves local businesses and economy over politics***. Exceptions abound, such as the counsel member who’s both a) Catholic and b) owns a small chain of liquor stores. My local voting procedure has always been to vote for the counter-culture candidate. And finally...one of my guys won!

Thanks for enduring this long report. I could get far more detailed and give way more examples as to what makes the fair mother city tick. Or you could just add that discussion to the comments.

Future reports in this series will be: Part III, a brief history lesson of the fair mother city and my theories on how it's religious culture came to be. And eventually Part IV, tying all of this info into together to the poverty culture and why I’m convinced they are squashed by the religious community and thus, why I feel like my calling exists.




* ACU is what brought me here as a young lad many moons ago. Yes, my spiritual heritage is with the Church of Christ. Although I haven’t been an official member of one for at least ten years.

** About a year ago I grew tired of trying to explain my agent life or give the easy answer of “house church”. Currently my standard answer to this question is now “I don’t”, followed by the questioner’s shocked silence. I figure: it’s an honest answer, I avoid sounding like I’m right and everyone else is wrong, and it shut’s them the-hell-up quick.

*** I’ve just begun digging into this discovery. Hopefully an agent report will follow someday, if not more smart ass quips towards Baptists, as I’m beginning to learn why I like them less and less daily...

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

i went to a holy rollen church in my 20s in abilene. i was very moved. i asked god for forgiveness and to be saved. it felt good.right. then my hubby and i went to eat and had wine with dinner. the next week at church the sermom was about sinning...ie drinking,dancing,and how the culture was bad for young people . i never went back. i did not feel like i had done anyhting wrong by my glass of wine with dinner...but i was made to feel like a heathen....no one at the church asked why i stopped coming...or even called us to check in. that started my dissent away from the organized church.i visist abilene often...my mother/sister go to a baptist church there.i call it a cult. i visit a nondonmational church on s 27th and barrow. i will let you figure out which one i am talking about.

james said...

"Coc"...ha! Good report man. Interesting info regarding the sale of alcohol 1978. Makes sense considering the culture I suppose.

Oh, and regarding the "social standards" section, and the watered down grape juice Jesus drank. Working where i work, i once spent 45 minutes on the phone trying to tell a pastor that the wine Jesus drank was actually wine, and that is there is no commentary of the Bible available that will render the greek word for wine as "grape juice."

I mean if you think about the wedding in Cana, what the hell were the people so excited about when Jesus performed the miracle? "Wow, you saved the best grape juice for last! Now our guests can continue to party!"

Mark said...

I love the "Fair Mother City" Series! Keep it up! Maybe there could be a post about the different people groups and their quest for meaning/purpose/community. You've hit the Christian subculture already, but what about other groups? Bikers? Skaters? War vets?

Agent B said...

James - yeah. Amazing how many pastors want The Book to be changed to their liking.

Mark - Hadn't planned on writing about different people groups.

I was trying to write a "brief" overview of the FMC so that people who have never been here might understand what makes it a little unique to other cities. And hopefully, I can tie it all in to the oppressed poverty community.

Feel free to share your view of these people groups here...

Agent B said...

Actually Mark, after thinking about it...

Those groups you mention...most of them are somehow squeezed out of the mainstream culture of Abilene and exist out of necessity, etc. I guess it's like that anywhere.

I've always found it interesting that the mainstream culture in the FMC (religious church goers) assume that their town is free from obvious sins like porn, sex, etc. In reality, those businesses exist on the outskirts of town, usually out of site, etc.

So...what does that say? Everything is OK as long as we don't see you?

Weird.

miller said...

actually, the fair mother city is not mostly christian...

only one in four will be in church on any given sunday.

peace

Agent B said...

technicalities...

When I write "religious culture" or such, I mean just that: culture. Not so that everyone in town is a believer or a church goer, etc.

But I probably wrote this post making it sound as if 75% were church goers instead of 25%.

But then again, by your stats, I'm not a christian...

miller said...

naw, its just that if half of the christian pop is in church it still only represents only 50% of the pop...

and you're a pagan and you know it :)

peace