Saturday, June 25, 2011

French Women Don't Shave Their....

Hello again from the beautiful city of Marseille!

After a long, long, very long sleep, I joined the Palau team at a ladies' tea in Vieux Port. My time orientation is so far off now that I struggle to remember what day it is, but that is no matter. They eat dinner here when most Americans are going to bed, so I'll just believe that I am acclimating myself to the local culture.

The beautiful Old Port part of town is the picture you see when you close your eyes. Mediterranean sparkling blue water, sailboats crammed together, men in very small bathing suits, women...not in bathing suits, and of course the smells and sounds of a thousand people on holiday. It would strain the considerable talent of this writer to adequately describe the relaxed, majestic, exhilarating beauty of this ancient port.

I attended today's community event because...well, it was the only thing else planned for the day that I didn't sleep through. Also, they said there would be tea and women and I didn't have to walk there. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've been such a lazy traveler today but I have flip-flop blisters and Luis Palau (The Traveler Himself) said I'm just catching up on missing sleep because of my 3 kids. I'll take it.

When I stepped off the elevator into a room full of French Christian estrogen, I realized the following: I have little French and they have Good French and also Fast French. No translation and a room full of hand-waving women in scarves that smelled of every flower imaginable meant that I was in a side room, having tea and a one-on-one conversation with a fellow English speaker.  (I know! Beatrice is being terribly American on this trip.)

We talked of the beautiful cathedral on the hill and the lady who was horrified that we were drinking breakfast tea in the afternoon. And then, obviously, we drifted towards that which we have in common: church work.

Having traveled a bit, I am always interested in the contrast between that which binds all people together, and that which is different and distinct. We eat different food, but we all have to eat food. We all like the water, but we wear drastically different things to the beach. And for those of us that believe in Jesus, we do so as humans but also as citizens of our country.

I laughed inwardly when many of the church ladies went outside for a smoke. They chatted while they did so,  swapping stories of their kids and spouses, talking about what they would make for dinner. They are very like the women I see every Sunday. That is, except for the cigarette between their French fingers. In the American South, any respectable church lady would be horrified at someone smoking. A Christian doesn't smoke, under any circumstances, and any hint that a Christian woman would smoke at a church gathering is probably in the Bible somewhere as a truly unforgiveable sin. I'm jesting, but I?

It caught me offguard, and aside from the fact that cigarette smoke is bad for your health, I don't judge the women for their choice. Truly, I don't. And yet, I am still product of my culture enough that I found it odd and humorous that these women prayed, drank tea, and smoked in community.

Smoking isn't good for your lungs, your heart, your skin. We know this. But we all participate in behaviors that are bad for us. Some are accepted and others frowned upon, depending on the circles you run in. In Nashville, I'm going to say that gossip and sugar are the downfalls of Christian women. (ouch!) We would never, ever smoke. Smoking is bad for the body! Let's have red velvet cake instead, and talk about how much we love God. Dixie Whatsherface isn't here today. Lord love her, she and her husband are going through it. I'll tell you exactly what they are going through...just so you know how to pray, though.

Perhaps if these women from Marseille visited my church, they would be surprised to find that we talk so freely about other people. We definitely don't do so in order for prayers to be more specific. We talk about each other simply because we have a grotesque hunger for dirt, and we want to feel better about our own place in the universe.

We are different, but also still alike.

All around the world, people who love God are trying to find the key to unlocking the doors to the massive amounts of people that aren't coming to church. We try festivals, we try relationships. We wear different clothes, we speak every lingo. We provide coffee, or beer, or even smoking. We are alike in that we want others to know who God is and that He genuinely loves them.

The problem is, we end up arguing amongst ourselves about the coffee or the beer or the smoking. We don't think suits work, we don't think shorts work. We don't have time for relationships, we don't have money for the lights and bells that draw crowds. In the end, the answer to our problem is quite universal.

Love, amour, or whatever you might call it, is the simple way to explain what is missing.

I'm not trying to claim that all the combined efforts of the world's Christian people haven't included love. Quite the opposite, really. But I think that amidst the necessary evils of planning and plotting and strategically creating, we forget to be sincere.

Charity, called love, includes sincerity. If I never spend time with my kids but then buy them a rainbow flying pony, I am showing insincerity. Gifts are a valid expression of love, but without sincerity they are a clanging cymbal. Sincerity isn't easy, though some would disagree. I find it far easier to put on the best version of myself and perpetuate a lie. A sincere picture of myself would be to say that I love God, but I'm often lost in the world of church. I find it difficult to track with people who don't seem to have any problems or lack of faith. I swear when I trip over my kids' toys. I would rather read a novel than the Bible on most occasions. Those things are sincere, but they don't make for polite conversation.

I think that sincere love for people, and who they currently are, is essential to spreading any news about God. We break down our own arguments if we say that God loves them but we do not. God accepts them, but we would prefer if they would please take out the eyebrow ring before coming to church.

It is one thing to accept someone, and another to lead and teach. We don't have to gossip and smoke our whole lives, nor should we. But if that is where we are now, then that is where we start. If God cannot take smoking and gossip, the rest of our messy lives aren't going to pan out. Just so, if church people cannot take the surface issues of who drinks what or who wears what, we shouldn't claim that we can love others through the sins of the heart.

Welcome to the family. We'll find you a seat at the table because we want you to be here, even if you still eat too much sugar.


palmahome said...

Oh.My.Goodness. Where is the "love" button????

Kristi said...

Is it wrong that my favorite part is that you incorporated rainbow flying pony in a blog??? Kudos for that. :) Aside from that highly non-spiritual comment, this is just perfect. Moi aussi. So much we could discuss. But. I am completely and truly envious of today's view/venue. I will try to pray about that...if I can find my cigarettes...

Leila said...

I bet more Americans would attend church this Sunday if we had a smokin' section. :) Super great blog, Tiffany; super-duper great!

“In the Beloved,” God’s marvelous grace Calls me to dwell in this wonderful place; God sees my Savior, and then He sees me, “In the Beloved,” accepted and free.