Sunday, September 30, 2012

If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)

For those ministers and DREs moving to Texas, there are certain things you should understand about this strange, foreign, beautiful, insane land.

First step is to determine whether you are in a Texas UU Church. This is not as easy as it sounds. There are UU churches in Texas where the leaders in the church for decades have been from Not Around Here, notably Michigan. This will be a different culture than the UU churches made up of born and bred Texans.

If you’re in a Texas UU Church, there is a good chance that the children and youth will call all adults by their first name, preceded by “Mr.” or “Miss.” “Miss,” in this manner, is used indiscriminately to refer to both married and unmarried women. When the youth graduates high school, they will go off to college or begin a job. When they return to the church for a visit, they will no longer use a salutation when talking to an adult. This is a Rite Of Passage, never formalized, keenly observed.

If you have a nickname, use it. I mean, not if it’s “Booger,” or “Keg Face,” but Bill, Jack, Cathy, etc. We like nicknames. It tells us you’re not stuck-up.

However, if someone’s nametag says, “Elizabeth,” and you hear her called, “Liz,” don’t automatically call her Liz. (This goes in all instances, not just for people named Elizabeth.) There is an element of familiarity with nicknames, and whereas some people go by their nick all the time, others are only called the nickname by people they are close to.

This is especially true in the matter of men, and what they are called by their spouses, especially if their nickname ends in “Y.” Tommy, Kenny, you get the picture. Unless the guy directly says, “My name is Timmy,” call him Tim. Otherwise, it’s going to seem like an alpha-male, patronizing throw-down.

Some of us, even as adults, call our parents Mama and Daddy. This is neither cute nor quaint, nor does it indicate a different educational level. It’s Southern culture.

Funerals are deeply meaningful rituals that facilitate the grief process in a formal, communal way. As the minister, you will be remembered for generations for your grace at this time. That being said, if there aren’t enough deviled eggs at the reception afterward, that’s the only thing that will be remembered.

If you are a female minister, women will often begin their conversations with you by commenting favorably on your shoes. This does not indicate shallowness on their part, it is a social nicety, not unlike Hindus greeting each other with a bow and “Namaste.” After the social niceties have been observed, the real conversation can begin. If she has ever met your mother, the shoe comment will also be combined with concern for her well-being, in the word noted by author Jill Conner Browne, “CuteShoesHow’sYourMama?”

We are in changing times, and it will take sensitive religious professionals to be able to negotiate through the grief and confusion this year and probably for the next several. Thanksgiving may elicit emotions among your congregants ranging from anger, to disillusionment, to depression. For generations, new Texas ministers and DREs needed only to be clued in that the Sunday after Thanksgiving, they were to wear neither burnt orange nor maroon, as feelings would be running high. Now, bereft congregants may feel lost and uncertain of the future.  You will need to be tender to their feelings, and just in case, don’t wear red, either

There is no one Texas accent, there are many. Someone from East Texas will have a soft, Southern accent. Those in West Texas will hit their “R”s pretty hard and have more of a twang. And everybody in Austin sounds like Matthew McConaughey. No one knows why.

Oh, one last note. If someone says, “Bless your heart,” it’s neither kind nor complimentary. You might want to start putting your search packet together.


Anonymous said...

I noticed when reading a sermon by a CT minister that the minister had mistakenly used "bless your heart" as a complimentary phrase. Having lived in North Carolina for 3 years now, I am well aware that it is NOT. This is a very important thing for others to realize. As my cousin tells me, southerners have mastered the art of oh-so-polite insults.

Sarah said...

The thing is, "bless your heart" is actually a phrase with a number of meanings varying wildly from "thank you, you didn't have to do that!" to "you poor thing, how did you survive that!?" to "wow, that was a really stupid thing you just did" to ...well, THAT meaning.