I travelled to Maywood a few times recently, admittedly outside my comfort zone, and the trips helped screw my head back on a little straighter.
On one of my expeditions I simply drove around our neighbor village to the west for half an hour. I was impressed by the well-kept lawns, the lack of boarded up houses—I saw only two in half an hour—and the number of beautiful homes in the part of Maywood north of Chicago Ave. which were as classy as most dwellings in River Forest.
On another trip, I attended the 8 a.m. service at Rock of Ages Church on Madison Street. Out of about 500 worshippers I was one of the two white folks present. As has almost always been the case when I have visited churches where I was a minority, I was warmly welcomed.
I was, however, a little uncomfortable, throughout the service. I was very aware that I was the “foreigner” in this culture. I didn’t know the cues, the expectations. At one point, Rev. Wiley asked anyone who was visiting for the first time to stand up. No way. I had seated myself in the back row for a reason. I reacted to almost everything with mixed emotions. The 35-voice choir and the band made terrific gospel music, but the repetition and improvising went on way too long as far as I was concerned. Rev. Wiley is a very good speaker, but towards the end I felt like he gave off more emotional heat than spiritual light.
I knew, more or less, that the experience would be partly enjoyable and partly uncomfortable. That’s the way it has always been when I have ventured out of my comfort zone into cultures where I have been the foreigner. I spent the Labor Day weekend with 20 Ugandans at the annual meeting of a charity I belong to. Same experience. It felt wonderful to feel the genuine welcome by people who see the world through different cultural eyes, to build small bridges instead of walls. At the same time, I regularly felt a degree of aloneness because of our different ways of experiencing “reality.”
Attending a service at Rock of Ages was good for me even though it wasn’t always comfortable. It forced me to see “reality” from a different point of view. It forced me to acknowledge that the way those black Baptists did church was good in many ways. It forced to face some of my own attitudes and defensiveness when it comes to religion. The goal of life is not to get comfortable but to get deeper. Isn’t that what we mean when we say a person is wise or mature?
So, in this column, I’m taking the role of the doctor and prescribing a trip to Maywood for you. When you visit, I expect that you will experience some pleasant surprises along with some discomfort. I know I appreciated seeing myself in new ways.
Some options are to spend an October afternoon at a Proviso East Pirates football game, or, better yet, a basketball game later in the year. Attend a service at Rock of Ages. Just a little west of Maywood, take a stroll through a little Mexican shopping area on 19th Ave. in what is technically Melrose Park, where a huge banner proclaims ESTANIONA MIENTO GRATIS (without translation), i.e. free parking. Or, simply stop in at the Aldi on Madison and pick up a gallon of milk for $1.89.
Differences, which are very real and can make us uncomfortable in the short run, can help us see ourselves more honestly and in the long run make us stronger both as individuals and as members of neighboring villages.
Football season has started, and coaches throughout the land will be saying “no pain, no gain” to their players. The paraphrase for us is “no discomfort, no maturing.”