I spent a LONG time today at Tysons Corner Center; a huge mall here in our area. I was looking for a black skirt and white shirt for my oldest daughter to wear in a choral concert on Saturday. Believe me, this is the wrong time of year to be looking for anything black in children’s clothing, so I went into A LOT of stores. Of course, I have known about what she needed to wear since January…another example of my procrastination! Anyway, this particular mall is outside of the usual one square mile in which I normally live my life, so I don’t often go there. I happened to be in that area for another purpose this morning and I knew that, if it isn’t at this mall, it simply doesn’t exist. I have never been a big fan of this mall, because it is SO large, but being the committed, caring, loving AND procrastinating mom that I am, I braved it in search of the perfect choral costume for my precious songbird (and I needed to shop for bras…sorry guys, we are all about the cold, hard truth here at Grace Notes 🙂
Before I give you my observations about my time in the mall, I need to explain the context of my experience. I am participating in a Sunday School class at church on the Emerging Culture. This class is an opportunity to examine the ways that our culture is changing and the role of the church within that changing culture. So, while I may have looked the part of the suburban mom hunting black gauchos and underwire bras, I was actually an undercover sociology student examining the emerging culture as evidenced by the mass consumerism of an upper-middle class mega mall. How’s that for spin?!?
Two primary things struck me as meaningful today; one in a good way and one in a somewhat alarming way. The first thing I noticed was the number of different languages being spoken around me. I think I may have been one of the few people in the mall today who only knew one language, including many of the employees. And the languages were diverse…people of Asian heritage, European, Middle Eastern, African. As transportation and technology connect us, our world is getting smaller and we are truly becoming a global community. Because we are all products of the environment in which we grew up, we must learn to expand our vision of who we are as a people and that vision must include considerations of different backgrounds and worldviews. As I have said before on this blog, we American Christians are more than a little arrogant about creating God and Jesus in our own image…in spite of the fact that Jesus likely resembled our Middle Eastern neighbors much more than my blond, blue-eyed family!
The second observation I made today in my visit to the mall is that I need to get out more. I am either getting really old or I am just terribly uncool, but I just don’t get a lot of the styles available for sale these days. While there are certainly still plenty of lovely things available for women of my age :-), I was struck by how much of the mall was clearly marketing their wares to the 20 something population. I went into one store in particular where I truly felt like an alien from a distant planet. I walked around for a while marveling at the displays and smiled because it reminded me so much of a dear 25 year old friend of mine. While she and I connect on many levels, including our love for Jesus, I was reminded in looking around that store that we perceive the world very differently in many, many ways. She, like many people her age, finds very little in the traditional church that speaks her language. As the church, we have some choices to make and some challenges ahead in empowering her generation to be bold in their faith. Part of that challenge is in learning to understand their world.
Although I THOUGHT I felt like an alien in the 20 something store, I had not yet experienced alienation until I entered Victoria’s Secret (remember, the bra hunt?) Keep in mind, that this is the same VS that made national news several months ago because of its raunchy window display. After much pressure, the store changed its displays, so I saw the “cleaned up” version today. Now, I consider myself a pretty open minded lady…I am definitely on the liberal end of the Christian spectrum in many ways and I was often seen as a little too wild to fit in with the “religious” folks in my youth (maybe now!)…I don’t shock easily and I am not offended easily. However, I was shocked by what I saw at Victoria Secret. The signs, the images, the mannequins all spoke to me of the degradation of women to nothing more than objects for sexual amusement and domination… offensive to me as both a Christian and a feminist. That those attitudes exist doesn’t shock or surprise me…what surprises me is that the marketers for VS have found that this type of display sells bras and that people are neither offended or concerned to find this in a suburban mall. What really intrigued me was that noone else in the store seemed the least bit concerned…which gets me back to the part about needing to get out more! Arrogantly, I often forget that much of the world does not think like I do!
I was listening to a CD on the way home in which the speaker reminded us that we need to get out of our Christian cocoon. As I listened to her speak, I realized that is exactly what I had experienced at the mall! I spend the majority of my life around people just like me…30 or 40 something, middle class Christians. We make a lot of noise about taking the good news of Jesus Christ out into “the world,” but how in the world am I going to tell anyone out in “the world” about this incredible, loving God that I know if I can’t speak their language? As Christians, we often bemoan the crumbling values and faltering morals that we see in the world around us, yet we don’t ask ourselves how it has gotten that way. As my friend Neil often says, whose responsibility is it to bring light to the darkness? Is it the fault of the darkness that it is dark, or is it the responsibility of the light to shine light into the darkness? As the Light, we can’t sit back and shake our finger at the Dark, blame it for being dark and then stay as far away from it as possible. What was it Jesus told us about being the Light of the World?
So, what do we do with this? Frankly, I don’t know entirely, but for me personally I think it has something to do with not spending all my energy trying to be a Light in places that are already fairly well lit. It is very warm and fuzzy here in my well lit corner of the world, blogging my little ideas for my friends who also live in well lit places…all of us secretly feeling superior to those folks who live in places more dimly lit. As soon as those folks from different cultures learn to speak our language… as soon as those young people grow up and learn our language…as soon as the dark quits being dark…we’d be glad to tell them all about the Source of our light. We are right here, safe and warm, waiting….