Sunday, September 19, 2010


On Friday morning at work, I headed out to the photocopiers to make a copy of something I had to send to another department. One of the machines was in use by a student--a sophomore, Jewish, looking to be a math teacher one day. I learned all this about her in about 7 minutes of standing there, waiting for the other copier to warm up. She was very perky, and was willing to talk nonstop to anyone nearby who looked friendly. I was unprepared for conversation, but I smiled, and listened to her, and wished her luck on getting her homework done on Yom Kippur weekend.

In the grocery store on Saturday, I had a young lady as a cashier who reminded me a bit of the woman I spoke to on Friday. She was smiling, enthusiastic, and telling me all about people who had come in that day, how much she loved her job, and how much she liked talking to people. She didn't understand people who complained about their jobs--and in this economy, it was good to have a job.

At home, I have a neighbor who loves to talk. When I first moved in, my father was getting rid of a pair of cedar trees inexplicably planted right in front of the front windows of the house. My neighbor came over, and talked to him for 45 minutes nonstop, during which time he learned pretty much everything about her, what she did, her family, her ex-husband, and her current problems. My father is polite, but not much for conversation, so he mainly let her talk while he dug up the tree roots. I have had many conversations with my neighbor since then. She is also a Pentecostal, and frequently when discussing her troubles, she'll say, "I talked to the Lord about it yesterday," and proceed to tell me what she told the Lord. As natural as if she'd knocked on my door and told me.

These three people have something in common. They are what you would call ingenuous. They have nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of, and talk innocently about everything. In social situations, they often make others uncomfortable. After all, there are some things you just don't discuss with others, and most people put up walls when it comes to personal information. If you're in a hurry to get somewhere, talking to an ingenuous person could set you back, as it's hard to get a word in edgewise. Yet, they are so friendly, it's difficult to be outright rude.

In spite of these perceived social shortcomings, I have to say that I greatly admire the ingenuous. These are people you can trust--they are not out to screw you, you can lend them money and you will get it back, you can let them look after your house when you are away and nothing will be stolen, and if you need help, they will give it cheerfully and usually selflessly. If they, like my neighbor, are ingenuous in matters of faith as well, then they represent their faith well.

She and I were talking one day. Her children frequently tell her she talks too much, and a lot of people make fun of her religiosity. I can tell it hurts her feelings. And that's another thing--when someone like that is hurt, I feel hurt for them. It's like kicking a puppy.

"I don't understand," she said to me one day. "Why are people so against Christianity?"

I thought for a moment. "Well," I said, "it has more to do with what people have done with Christianity, than about Christianity itself."

"Like what?"

"Oh, like using it as a basis to discriminate against others--gays, divorced people, people who have children out of wedlock, people who aren't Republican...."

She looked puzzled. "I haven't read the Bible, but doesn't Jesus say you're not supposed to judge others? If they hurt you, you pray for them, and leave judging to God?"

I smiled. "Yeah, actually it does say that."

"Then why do people do that?"

I really wasn't sure how to explain it to her. "Because people aren't interested in the teachings of Jesus. They're interested in using the Bible, and the respect people have for it, to push their own agenda."

"That doesn't make any sense."

"No, It doesn't."

"How can they call themselves Christians?"

"A very good question. But that's how the non-Christians in this country see Christians."

I could have explained some of the history and fights over doctrine, and the whole notion of the scientific worldview clashing with literalist views, not to mention the whole mytho--psychological structure. But there was no point. She was confused enough by that one aspect. Her faith was uncluttered by all of this other stuff, and had no pretensions. I was sad the day she decided to buy a study Bible, and was going to try to read it. Most of the time I feel people should be educated in their Scriptures, but I felt she already understood the highlights well enough to fulfill that fourth function of myth (psychological guidance). Reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, was likely to freak her out. And I think it did. She put it away soon thereafter and didn't go back to it, as far as I know.

In many ways I envy the ingenuous. I've spent years studying, reading, getting degrees, teaching others--and I still feel like they, who often are not very educated--are better at being human beings than those of us who have become cynical about the ways of humans. They've retained the best parts of childhood, and I don't mean that derisively. It's the part I wish I could recapture for myself.


Lisa said...

My Dad's like that, talking peoples' ear off everywhere he goes. He makes friends at every grocery store, drug store, pizzeria, and everywhere else he goes on a regular basis. He's been retired for years, so I think he just gets bored pretty quickly. That and the fact that he and my Mom have run out of things to talk about after 42 years of marriage.

Nadiin said...

I am awed by the innocence of your neighbour.

Brigid N. Burke said...

Nadiin--so am I. It's one of the things I like about her. She's had life experiences, so I wouldn't call her "sheltered", but she is definitely provincial.

And it makes me think about Lisa's comment, about her Dad, and getting bored--I think in my neighbor's case, she's rather lonely. She does have her kids (who are grown up), and she is out working all day--but she rarely gets "out". Going out to her is going to the local fireman's dinner. I like to take her up to New York State, or out to one of our NJ towns about an hour away, just to give her a change of scenery once in awhile, and a chance to talk. (Not to the city--I think that would be too much. :)) We don't do it often because we're both busy, but I can tell she really enjoys it when I invite her.