Up Front by Emma Hart

212

The Missionary Position

Yesterday I met the nice woman from across the street for the first time. (Not a ninja.) We chatted away amicably for a while, but it made me ponder a phenomenon that seems to happen to me quite a bit. Why do so many people I meet feel compelled to mention their church in our first conversation? Where's our famed Kiwi reticence about religion?

When I wonder this, someone usually points out to me the large pewter pentacle I wear all the time and suggests some degree of hypocrisy. I don't think of that so much as a religious statement, though; more 'fair warning'. It scares off people I don’t want to talk to, and anyone who still has a go at me after that is therefore Fair Game. Why yes, pack of teenagers from Middleton Grange, that does include you, doesn’t it?

So like any good Kiwi, I'm really uncomfortable discussing religion. Even when people are just being friendly and curious ("Are you Jewish, then?") I get awkward and abrupt. Couldn't we just talk about sex or politics instead?

Nevertheless, I keep meeting people who think religion is an appropriate – almost compulsory – topic for discussing with people you've just met. Worse than that, I keep meeting missionaries.

For a while there, you could just about guarantee that if one of my kids made a friend at school, the parents would turn out to be missionaries. The family of my son's closest friend spent a whole year bringing the Word of God to deepest darkest Sydney.

Our old neighbours were lovely. They'd also come here from America specifically to work as missionaries. Now, maybe there’s something I don't understand about missionary work, but this just seems like cheating. Surely if you're going to be missionaries there should be some kind of hardship involved? An essential lack of running water, electricity, and speaking the local language just seem like basic requirements. Also possibly going somewhere where Christianity isn't already the dominant religion. Have you heard the Word of God? Yes, actually, we have. What happened to the pioneering spirit? Is there nowhere you can go and risk getting cooked and eaten any more?

It’s possible that I undermine my own argument here. When my son was about five, we were driving through Timaru with my mother. My boy was reading all the street signs we passed. "Church Street," he said. "Mum, what’s a church?" This was just a tiny bit awkward, as my mother is a church elder, does the flowers, runs the crèche, and was a Sunday School teacher for years. She was my Sunday School teacher, whatever kind of testimony that is.

So if there's a country where you can move in next door to an atheist witch in a civil union raising her children to be good homosexuals, maybe that in itself justifies saddling up for the Conversion Train.

Then there are the apples.

We love our apples, right? We're famous for it. And you know, if you cut an apple in half horizontally, there's a pentacle inside? ZOMG Satanic fruit! No wonder it was apples the Devil used to tempt Eve, even though the Bible forgot to specify. You think the Latin words for apples and evils are the same by accident? And what's New Zealand full of? Apples. Also cows. I'm working on it. There's got to be some kind of Satan-cow connection. Oh wait, it's the internet: somebody's already done it for me.

Maybe I'm paranoid. I just find it difficult to believe that the number of missionaries I run across is proportionate to the number of functioning contemporary missionaries in the country. Surely I'm getting somebody else’s share as well? Or they really are out to get me.

I should add that I don't have anything against Christian missionaries in particular. All kinds of proselytising annoys me. It's just that when the Hare Krishnas knock on my door, they bring samosas. Take a hint.


Almost forgot to mention. Christchurch's second Drinking Liberally is tonight, at Goodbye Blue Monday in the Lanes, 6:30 for a 7pm start. Speaker is Phil Goff.

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