I have no problem with religion.
I don't consider myself actually "religious," more "spiritual," but I have a deep respect for those who choose to worship in a particular way.
Growing up, my mom was always searching for belief, so we ran the gamut of religious practices.
Every few years we'd try a new belief system on for size -- Buddhism, General New Age, "The Celestine Prophecy", Anglican, Oprah-ism, Zoroastrianism, Catholicism -- if there was book store dedicated to it, or a section at Barnes & Noble devoted to it, we had had been there.
One of my earliest memories was being 11 years old and writing an entrance essay to a fancy Seattle prep school that would ensure me a the elite college of my choice.
The essay question asked me to write about something I felt strongly about. So of course, being the typical all-american preteen, I wrote about reincarnation.
I spent hours on that essay. I started by talking about how I believed in ghosts and different "planes of existence" and how (and this is almost a direct quote) "I simply cannot believe that this is the only life that we have. How can we learn all we need to know from one life? We are always learning from our past lives how to live in this life."
I was SO PROUD of that essay. I was going to get IN to the fancy prep school and go to Harvard to study whales (I was in my marine mammal phase).
Sadly, or wisely, however you want to look at it, my mom took one look at that essay and told me write about leather working. (I had been given something akin to a "My First Leather Working Kit" for my last birthday, and I kind of had a knack for pounding patterns into little pieces of heart shaped leather. WHO GIVES AN 11-YEAR-OLD A LEATHER WORKING KIT COMPLETE WITH BLADES AND CHISELS AND A MINI HAMMER OF THOR? I digress.)
When I tearfully asked my mom why I couldn't submit my essay to the fancy prep school admissions committee, she explained that not everyone believes the same thing about the afterlife, and that talking about something like reincarnation makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
"Not everyone is okay with talking about past lives and ghosts. Sometimes people are judgmental about what other people believe."
So I wrote about whales and got into the school, but didn't actually end up going due to financial constraints. But I did manage to sneak into my application, how I started a "Ghost and Past Lives" club (cult) amongst my friends. So there.
I'm actually really grateful for all the beliefs we explored. I feel it's given me something of an understanding and compassion for most of the religions that come my way amongst friends and family. I'll be the first person to defend your beliefs, whether I share them or not.
So why am I so bothered by this incident with a hair stylist I go to?
Let me explain.
I often get my hair cut by this daffy, free-spirited stylist who is fantastic at cutting Asian hair. I usually love her chatter about family, food and the books she reads. Plus she gives me great tips on keeping my crazy hair slightly less crazy.
This last time, when I walked into the cozy, funky, salon, things were a little different.
First of all I noticed the music. As the stylist was finishing up with another customer, I noticed them singing along to the radio. It was this mellow rock with a gravely voiced man singing about reaching up and love and "the Light." Hm. What's up with that?
"Oh well, to each their own," I thought, and continued to read my book.
When it was my turn, we talked about my cut, she shampooed my hair, and I sat in her chair. As she began to cut, we chatted about family and summer plans and what tasty things were available at the farmer's market right now. Nothing out of the norm.
However, as my cut progressed the conversation turned to religion. More precisely, her religion. I won't go into too much detail, but she talked about sermons, "services you should attend," how great being a Christian is, how Christians are misunderstood, how she "used to be like me," and great Christian movies I should watch that could help me find true happiness.
As she talked, I can't say that I felt like I was being preached at, more that I felt a growing sense of discomfort at how she assumed to know what I was "like." Aren't we supposed to avoid talk of politics and religion amongst acquaintances?
The rest of my cut continued without incident. We talked about my work, I asked her some questions about shampoo, she told me I had a big forehead (I do), and that was it. I paid and left.
I left feeling confused. Should I be offended? Outraged? Was all that religious talk inappropriate? I don't know.
Thinking about it now, I kind of got the same awkward feeling I get when people talk to me about "how fat someone is" and how they should fix it. A lot of people feel OK talking to me about fat -- because I'm thin after losing a lot of weight, and they assume I hate fat as much as they do. (I don't, it's complicated. That's another story.) It's all in the assumption.
I've met all kinds of Christians, some who practice personally and quietly and some, like this guy on an airplane I met who practically tried to baptize me with ginger ale right then and there, who feel it is their mission to bring me to the Lord.
My spidey-senses were telling me this was more to the ginger ale side of things, though milder. More than anything, it was just SO AWKWARD.
Should I have asked her, politely, to stop with all the religious talk? Am I overreacting? Was she just a happy person who wanted to share with me the happiness she was experiencing in her life? Was I being tacitly judgmental about her beliefs?
I'm not going to start an argument with the woman wielding sharp scissors near my face. But the whole thing made me feel gross.
I am going to return to her the next time I want my hair cut. I really do like her, she cuts good hair and even if her spiritual beliefs don't line up with mine, her haircare beliefs do.
I'm just going to make sure it isn't anywhere near Christmas.
Have you ever been religiously ambushed in an unlikely place? How did you handle it?