As people were presenting on their congregation visits this week, it was interesting to see not only the variety of belief systems within the different churches, but also the variety of beliefs the people in our class had about their churches. It seems most people enjoyed their experiences, but some people described the congregations they had visited as “weird,” “strange,” or “crazy.” I think it’s important to remember to be careful with our words and recognize that just because something is different than what a person might be familiar with, doesn’t necessarily make it weird or bad. These evaluative statements suggest negative moral judgements that generalize and misunderstand other people’s perspectives.
What this made me think of was a reading we did for another class called, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” It reads like an ethnography of an anthropologist among a strange group of people who practice rituals such as keeping magical potions in a charm box on the wall which they believe they cannot live without, inserting a small bundle of hog hair into their mouths with a magical substance and then moving it around their mouths, and men scraping their faces while women bake their heads. Upon closer reading, ‘Nacirema’ is actually ‘America’ spelled backwards, and the rituals the author describes are routine activities of American daily life. The magical potions in a charm box are medicines in a medicine cabinet, the bundle of hog hair people put in their mouth with a magical substance is really a toothbrush and toothpaste (back when toothbrushes used to be made of hog hair), and the men scraping their faces while women bake their heads is meant to be men shaving their faces while women dry their hair at salons. The point of the article is to show how we should be careful when evaluating a culture that is not ours because we might be prone to exaggerate or misunderstand what is really happening. This same concept applies to our congregation visits. Especially since we are only visiting these churches one time, we really don’t have a full understanding about what is going on and we should be careful with our judgements.