Theology in the Dressing Room
With the school semester finally over and summer rapidly approaching, I recently embarked on the dreaded task of shopping for a new swimsuit. While I could easily rant about that process, I wanted to share my encounter with a very interesting dressing room attendant.
To remind my readers who have never actually met me, I am missing my left arm below the elbow (hence the name of my blog – onehandclapping). When I walked walked into the dressing room this lady immediately saw my arm and started offering to do everything for me. She took all the suits, walked me to the handicapped stall, took everything off the hangers for me, undid all the fastenings, and then offered to help me try on the items. While it was a bit infuriating that she assumed that my disability meant that I could not dress myself, I tried to just appreciate her helpfulness. Then she chose to stand right outside my dressing room and talk to me the entire time I was in there. And this wasn’t just small talk either, she essentially delivered a sermon to me about how Jesus had brought me to her to allow her to help a person in need. She then went on about how God has given me strength and grace to manage in this world with just one arm and how blessed I must feel that I have had such grace bestowed upon me.
By that point, I was feeling rather uncomfortable. I hadn’t told her my faith choices, but I did know that the woman who came in before me was Muslim and was having to listen to this sermon. And while I believe that we are all blessed by God, I am not a fan of being pitied because I am “abnormal.” But then this woman started describing a homeless man she had seen on the way in to work. She described how he seemed to have created a home out of a shopping cart and that it was his choice to be living in such misery. She said as she passed him, God told her that she didn’t need to help him because if he chose to he could do something with his life and be blessed too. She then praised me for choosing to live in such a way that I can receive God’s blessing.
I didn’t want to argue with her, so I gave her a quick thanks and walked away as she called out to me to always remember to trust in and praise Jesus. But it was such a strange encounter that it’s been hard to stop thinking about it. I don’t know her and don’t want to so readily judge her as she did me and the homeless man, but I couldn’t help but see her as the perfect example of why so many Christians are reluctant to love their neighbors. We create categories that allow us to help those we can pity and see as helpless but which excuse us from helping those we find difficult or uncomfortable – and we do so in the name of Jesus. We create tribes and in-groups and then rationalize that God only desires for us to love our neighbors within the tribes we have created in our own image. We theologize ourselves out of following the greatest commandments and then praise God.
The tendency these days for Christians to pick and choose who they will love is sadly becoming the defining characteristic of what it means to be a Christian. My awkward dressing room encounter simply reminded me of this trend. I just wonder what it will take for that to change?