Ah, Branson, Missouri.
The Bible Belt’s Vegas.
Instead of strip clubs and casinos, these neon lights indicate enough twangy country music, slapstick comedy, and gaudily dressed cowboys singing the national anthem to make me vomit red, white, and blue. One is more family friendly, but both are indubitable ways to live an empty life, void of responsibility.
Last weekend I visited my family while they were on vacation before moving to Italy, as dictated by Uncle Sam. Silver Dollar City is like a Renaissance fair, if by “renaissance” it is implied the time period in the poverty-decimated South after an unsuccessful run at cessession. It serves as a family meeting place a couple times a year now, and before that we were season ticket holders. It’s not too bad though, there are some exciting rides and fascinating displays. My H&M/obscure band shirt wardrobe tends to stick out like a sore thumb, but letting your inner hillbilly out can be oddly therapeutic. Life can’t all be npr radio and books. I’d like to see a book teach you how to have a rootin tootin, good ol Ozarkian day in the sun. (I’m sure it could, but usually the most experienced in this area aren’t the of the book writing variety…)
My ‘flaming liberalism’ apparently still embers, in spite of it all. I was in line for a ride today, when the lady in charge took notice of my apparel. Wouldn’t you know it, I was wearing my “Jesus Loves Pornstars” shirt, referring to XXXChurch ministries. I guess this radical message of Jesus loving everybody, particularly social pariahs, is a message unfit for public exposure, since she threatened to have me thrown out of the park if I didn’t zip up my jacket or turn the shirt inside-out. I was well on my way to pariah-hood myself. Yikes.
I didn’t want trouble on this particular day, so i gave her a “really?”, and zipped,
for the duration of the ride, anyway.
It got me thinking about how incredible it is that, in name, this part of the United States of America is the epicenter of cultural Christianity. The Bible Belt. No where else in the world are you going to find such a dense sociopolitical institution of Christian fundamentalism as you will find here. It’s incredible. It’s like Indonesia or Iran for Islam. We have Christian businesses, theme parks, schools, and entertainment industries. I find it incredibly discouraging however, that in all the time I have spent in this region, I find myself being alienated more and more alienated with the more questions I ask and the more serious my theology becomes. There are Christians everywhere here, but I find it really hard to find a church that seems to have their priorities set on following Jesus’ teachings rather than electing politicians.
When I left to study abroad in England, I was honestly pretty worried that the only church I would find would be some cold, ritualistic cathedral with the 30 or so fragile remaining Christians in Europe reciting sing-songey liturgies of dispair and agony. I did not expect to find a passionate church so excited about grace, love, and serving others while having an adept understanding of their theology and the realities they face as a church in western society, like the one I did find.
No flags, no attendance boards, no political ultimatums, no appeal to tradition over effective ministry, no blaming other denominations.
Just church. And a sense of urgency. It’s Europe, after all… the belly of the beast, right? They don’t have time to screw around.
You know, we could use that in the ‘epicenter of Christianity’ in the South.
The last day we spent at Silver Dollar City, I wore a shirt with a slightly less in-your-face message, but equally alienating me from my audience…