You know how when you hear a certain song you haven’t heard in a while, you can be taken back in time to when you first heard it, almost feeling the same feelings, thinking the same thoughts you felt and thought back then? I had a similar experience over Thanksgiving from, of all things, dead, brown grass.
My family and I were back in Texas visiting relatives for the Thanksgiving holidays when my boys said they wanted to see where I went to high school. I was a little surprised – they usually hate it when I talk about how much I love REO Speedwagon or talk about the glory days in college. So, we were on the west side of Plano and started making our way east to Plano East Senior High, a place where I left no impact or mark. As we drove we passed neighborhood after neighborhood with house after house with yard after yard filled with the dead, brown grass that took me back to all of the times I came back to see my family from college or seminary. And the neighborhoods, houses, and yards all looked exactly alike to me. And just with the song or smell of certain foods that takes you back in time, the sight of the yard after yard with dead, brown grass took me back to each time I returned for the holidays – and the feeling I had was a total dread.
No offense meant to my fellow Planoites, but I hated Plano when I was growing up there. And after I left, I dreaded going “home” to visit family. It just always felt so stifling, like the sameness was the strangling grip of uniformity that demanded certain attitudes, beliefs, even a certain lifestyle. It was hegemonic in many ways.
When I was growing up in Plano I couldn’t wait to leave. I used to dream of living in the North or Midwest or Northwest – anywhere but Plano. You see, the neighborhoods and houses in Plano were actually a sign of progress and affluence in the 70s and 80s when the low taxes and zero regulations on businesses meant that lots of corporate headquarters relocated to North Texas, Plano in particular. Plano exploded with the insurgence of so many newly planted “Texans” and as the corporate ladder-climbers moved in, so did my family.
Neighborhoods were popping as fast as builders could cheaply build them. Stores followed the neighborhoods as did churches, and it was a economically booming time. The arrogance of the recently-planted Texans was quite high considering almost none of the friends I had in high school were actually Texans – meaning born in Texas (and for the record, I am a TENNESSEAN and proud of it!).
I even remember a song that I clung to in high school because it captured the suffocation that I was feeling. The song is Subdivisions by Rush and it followed their huge album, Moving Pictures. The opening verses in particular captured my thoughts:
Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown
Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone
Alone is what I felt through most of my time in Plano. And driving through it with my boys I felt at first the same dread and yes, the loneliness. I felt every time I came back. But I also felt contentment especially as I thought of my two amazing, beautiful boys travelling with me now who make me so proud and happy. I felt the kind of contentment and gratefulness you feel when you have passed through a set of trials and have come through them largely unscathed.
I always am amazed when I hear testimonies of people who have gone through truly sizable obstacles: things like addiction, abuse, violence, poverty. I went through none of those so it hard for me to identify, though I am amazed when I hear their stories. I merely had to endure boredom and a strangling, hegemonic sense of conformity. Yet, it’s the boredom and the stifling hegemony that creates or exacerbates the marginalization of those who are captive to addiction, violence, poverty and the rest. It is societal conformity and our slavish obedience to it that keeps us from looking compassionately upon those who fall outside those tightly controlled boundaries. Conformity means detachment and is only smashed when we truly relate with those who are unwilling or unable to conform.
So, let’s remember and hold up the dreamers and misfits that Geddy Lee sings of above. It is the Church alone, I believe, who can provide the alternative community to the captivity of subdivisions. It is the Church that can foster creativity and imagination. And it is the Church that can welcome and provide hospitality for all who feel burdened by the “geometric order…detached and subdivided in the mass production zone.” In Christ and his community of believers we truly are welcomed for who we are. There is glory in our differences and uniqueness for it reflects the perfect imagination of our Creator.