Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Breaking a New Year's Resolution--responding as one of the "coast people"

I generally do not make New Year's resolutions. Change has to come from other places than a calendar. I promised myself recently that using the letters to the editor from the Argus Leader as blog fodder was past its usefulness and did not reflect the peace I have reached with the state and its people.

A mythical line has been crossed and I have to call attention to it. More than once have I heard the reference to "people from the Coast" or "Coastal people" and ascribing sweeping generalizations to people from the East or West Coasts of the United States. I make sweeping generalizations. At least I try to be careful with them. My generalizations about the Midwest and/or Northern Great Plains are often affirmed by Garrison Keillor (also known by my friend Theobilly as the "guy (who) makes fart jokes"). In my early days of watching The Simpsons--there is an episode where the family is gathered around watching "A Prairie Home Companion" on TV with the audience engulfed in laughter. The Simpsons sit there with a blank stare. Until I moved to these wonderful Northern Great Plains--I did not understand the laughter attached to Keillor's work. Now I have lived the stories that Keillor describes.

Several friends and colleagues and I have wondered if the film depicting the lives of two gay ranchers known as "Brokeback Mountain" would ever come to Sioux Falls (it has). It turns out that one of the writers spent some time in South Dakota, and one of the stories in a recent Argus interviewed the writer. I looked forward to the buzz around the article and film--which has been minimal. The generated buzz did cross the line in the form of this letter. I was really pissed off when I read this letter at first--but I have since calmed down. With this letter I am reminded of the burning questions that keep me awake at night and why I would have any desire to subject myself to the pain of becoming a doctoral student. The assumptions of this writer reflect a theology of place--that regional differences matter in how people look at God, the Church and faith. That theology of place assumes that people from the "Coast" are morally inferior. I tire easily from that assumption. This woman is disturbed by Brokeback Mountain, even though she won't have the opportunity to see the movie in Lesterville, and I doubt she will try to see the film.

As a theologian, if I can somehow provide a bridge for the church to somehow have a conversation about faith and Church recognizing regional particularities in a productive way--then "here I am, Lord."


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