Driving in my car, listening to the radio playing Brad Paisley’s relatively new single, Southern Comfort Zone. He’s singing about how “not everyone drives a truck, not everybody drinks sweet tea, not everybody owns a gun, wears a ball cap, boots, and jeans….” The lyrics reminded me of when our kids were in high school, or when I was, even longer ago. Everyone had a label, and if you didn’t belong to a group, you were a miserable nobody.
My school had surfers, Jesus freaks, druggies, jocks, etc. My kids’ school included skaters, cowboys, nerds, and (still) jocks. Nothing much had changed in 25 years. I assumed we’d get past all this as we became adults, but I’m not sure we have.
Paisley’s song describes “southern country folks”—those who drive pick-ups, drink sweet tea, wear boots, watch NASCAR races and go to church. Can you relate? Or, if that doesn’t describe you, might you be a computer geek—supposed to drink strong coffee, stay up late, survive on junk food, be really smart, and have minimal social skills? What other groups are out there?
Church culture comes with its own list of expectations. If we label ourselves an evangelical, people (both inside and out of the church) assume that we listen to contemporary Christian music, have conservative cultural values (such as being anti-gay marriage and pro-life), believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old, and vote Republican. In many cases, that may be true. No surprise there—stereotypes often have a basis in truth. What amazes me is how much pressure there is in the church to conform to that list. It’s just like high school.
Of course, our overriding identity is who we are in Christ. That’s a huge topic for another time. For now, I’m talking about the temptation to let group-speak determine our interests, our politics, our friends. It’s often much easier to just pick a group and change to fit in, letting the majority make our decisions. But if God wanted everyone to be the same, he’d have created a bunch of clones.
Maybe one advantage of getting older is that I no longer feel that I have to belong to one group to the exclusion of any others. I joyfully have one foot in the church and one in the world of science. I’m hugging a tree with one arm and hugging my granddaughter with the other. Somehow, after years of roll-playing, I have cobbled together a sense of identity that is uniquely mine.
There’s an old Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song that was popular when I was young. One of the lines in “Woodstock” goes, “And I don’t know who I am but life is for learning.” That’s true at the beginning of our lives, but at this point I enjoy knowing who I am—an ornithogranniphotoenviroagriGodfollower, made in the image of God.
Who are you?