She asked if I liked blues music. I said I did. It was Reformation Day, and we were at a confirmation reception, sipping mimosas and eating quiche bites. She said she was surprised that someone like me would like blues music.
Wait a minute. Why wouldn’t I like blues music? Was it the way I dressed? The way I talked? I had never met this woman so how could she possibly have the information to appraise my artistic tastes? The monologue inside my brain raced. Was it my jewelry?
And suddenly I knew. I felt the wet blanket of pastor’s wife smother my individuality.
“I didn’t know ministers liked blues music,” she said to my husband (the pastor) and me. Meaning no harm, she was expressing an authentic observation. But I admit I felt let down, reduced to an over-simplified identification – the pastor’s wife.
A pastor’s wife pigeonhole doesn’t hit me often, but when it does, I’m perplexed how best to respond. Do I shrug it off or prove it wrong? I’ve discovered there’s no good way to explain your way out of a religious stereotype in party conversation, even a confirmation party.
When I was in seventh grade, my social studies teacher wrote the word “assume” on the blackboard and then broke it down the way a middle schooler could understand. “When you assume, you make ass out of u and me,” he said, emphasizing the respective letters with underlines and slashes. The class erupted into laughter. I think the teacher’s point was more about student behavior and less about social systems but still, for some reason I remember that exact lesson.
Why did it bother me that someone said I didn’t look like a blues music fan? I guess I felt falsely categorized. Yes, I am a pastor’s wife. No, you know nothing about me.
The truth is I’m lucky because my friends are real, inside and outside the church. I’m free to bungle up and detangle my own actions. Plus, the pastor’s wife stereotype doesn’t cost me anything. My cool factor might be damaged, but my children are safe.
While I’m somewhat ambivalent about my existential label pastor’s wife, more and more I am decidedly sure about my tag as Christian, especially as the faith draws me to people I don’t know. In the same way I love the simplicity of the “assume” cliché, my Christianity litmus is easy: What would Jesus do? WWJD for short.
Syrian refugees – WWJD?
Identification badges for Muslims – WWJD?
Black lives matter – WWJD?
War is the answer – WWJD?
Add any hot fear or cold assumption here. WWJD?
(Non-Christians are off the hook in this morality framework, but as an armchair political scientist, I think Jesus’ methods would be effective in a pragmatic way too.)
Back at the confirmation party, I shut down the inner-brain chatter and focused on my companions. The mimosas and quiche-bites almost gone, my new friend believed me when I said I liked blues music.
“Come and join us sometime,” she said, mentioning her group’s weekly gathering for a live show. Her invitation was earnest. No ulterior motives, no suppositions. Just a real attempt to connect, human being to human being. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus would do.