The first impression was the polished reception room. Corporate. Christian. Corporate Christian. That’s what it screamed – from the pleasant receptionist behind the desk to the pictures of happy traditional families on the wall. To be honest, I half expected the receptionist to have big blonde hair and the slightest hint of a southern-Christian accent – something like Gwen Shamblin from Weigh Down. She was a little more “normal” than that, but still had the look of a white-bred/suburban Christian. I didn’t look too closely, but someone pointed out later that one of the posters, just under the “Christian Media” sign said “we support traditional family values”. Of course they do. That’s what corporate Christianity does.
The board room was comfortable. The seats were nice and squishy – a step up from most boardrooms. I hadn’t been in the room long when the three Bobs swooped in on me. I don’t think any of them was really named Bob, but that’s what they’ve become in my mind. Three thirty-something men cut from the same Corporate Christian cloth. Dressed in suits of various shades of grey-blue-green complimented with ties with just a hint of colour. Short gelled hair. Clean-shaven faces. Not a hint of dirt under their closely-cropped fingernails. Cell-phones and palm pilots hooked onto their belts. The perfect look for someone whose job it is to market Christianity. Approachable, professional, conservative but with a touch of fun.
In a room full of Christian communicators, set in a backdrop of the local Christian radio station/television/media conglomerate, I felt a little like the kid trying to pass herself off as one of the popular kids when she knows she belongs at the misfit table. Did it show on my face that I didn’t really fit in? Did the fact that I’m an “often-backslidden-always-questioning-nontraditional” follower of Christ shine from my face? If I opened my mouth, would I be noticed for not spewing forth the requisite “Christianese”? Or were there other people just like me in the room, searching for a genuine faith, hoping to build a world where the word “Christianity” doesn’t come with so much baggage?
Turns out there WERE people just like me in the room, and I sat next to one of them. I suspect others at our table were also cut from a similar cloth. The person next to me was Aiden Enns, publisher and managing editor of a new magazine called Geez. Read the first line of their mission statement, and you know he’s a like-minded soul. “Geez magazine has set up camp on the fringes of faith. It is a refuge and inspiration for people of restless faith and blessed instinct.” And their byline on their ad campaign – “Chicken poop for the soul”. We didn’t get to talk much, but it didn’t take long to find some common ground. He also used to be an editor for Adbusters, a fascinating anti-consumerism magazine that loves to poke fun at corporate culture.
After lunch, the three Bobs got up to speak. For the next 15 minutes, we were subjected to all the polished corporate Christian marketing lingo they could muster. “We’re here to build relationships.” “Our radio station is here to help you reach your goals and expand your ministry.” Blah, blah, blah, blah. It was painful. I suppose it’s necessary, some of this marketing stuff, and ironically, I have to do some of it in my own work. But it just smacks so much of artificiality. If nothing else, when I serve as “marketer” in my work, I want to be authentic. I want to be real, human, and honest. I don’t want to look like a “Bob” in corporate attire with corporate literature and a corporate powerpoint presentation. I want to be Heather the ordinary, flawed human with passion, ideas, and perhaps a bit of a message to share. If I start turning into a “Bob” someone please slap me.
During the presentation, I scribbled a note to my seatmate. “Pretty much goes against anything you represent, eh?” He nodded and smiled. “But,” he said, “I can’t alienate myself from this. I have to be open to the people within Corporate Christianity that want to hear a different message.” He’s right, I suppose. We can’t just paint them all with the same brush and dismiss them, even though it’s tempting.
It’s weird, this Christianity thing. I still cling to it, because it matters to me. I still feel the need to have God in my life. But when I see this version of Christianity that screams of exclusionism and little narrow boxes, a part of me wants to run screaming from the room.