Speaking of Cobb. And religion.

Here’s a tale about life in Atlanta at the micro level.

The wife and I moved into our neighborhood in November, 2003. It’s a neighborhood of about 60 houses in Cobb that was built in the 1984-86 era and features a mix of mid-sized traditional, victorian, and contemporary houses on half to three-quarter acre lots. Surprisingly, it is not a swim / tennis community. There are many original residents, but there has been some turnover lately and my wife and I are not the only residents under 30. Everyone we’ve met has been very nice, but at the same time, there was certainly no welcome wagon. A little over a year in, we have yet to officially meet the people who live right next door, which is as much our fault as theirs I suppose.

I’ll spare you any further background information and get to the good stuff. Yesterday, in our mailbox, was a wrapped gift and a letter from a neighbor up the street who we have yet to meet. The letter was a form addressed to all the residents of the neighborhood, so I can only assume there was one in each of the 50-60 mailboxes. After wishing everyone a happy Christmas season, the letter dove right into the importance of their relationship with Jesus and how they feel compelled to share it with the whole neighborhood. It went on to announce a weekly bible study intended for neighborhood residents. The wrapped gift was a harcover copy of this book, which has a $20 cover price.

The letter by itself would have been no big deal, because Christians evangelize. It’s what they do. But adding the book to the mix seems to escalate the gesture to a higher level of importance and urgency. The book amplified what they seemed to be implying and, more importantly, what we seemed to be inferring. While very similar, the wife’s and my beliefs are not identical, and we quickly found ourselves in an oft-heated discussion about the appropriateness of such an act.

The reactionary in me wants to fire off a letter ripe with how-dare-you indignation. But the homeowner in me shuddered at the thought of creating discord within a neighborhood where we are still very much new residents. I wouldn’t want to offend them unnecessarily, but they obviously didn’t care about offending me, so where do you draw the line? Eye for an eye, right? Or is it turn the other cheek?

How would you respond?

8 Comments so far

  1. Thomas (unregistered) on January 14th, 2005 @ 11:59 am

    Ask yourself this: When you sneeze in public, are you offended by the resultant blessings from strangers? If so, then I guess you are within your societal rights to be offended by this gift. What you do about it — writing a letter, TPing their lawn, whatever — will be a measure of that offense. Is it worth the effort? Moreover, is it worth the likely result.

    If it were me, I would be amused by the book and oddly grateful for the gift — not because of the book itself, but the gesture. Regardless of what the gift is, it is the thought that matters — isn’t that what we always say? The fact that your neighbor took this opportunity to do a little prosyletizing with their gifting is opportunistic, perhaps … but that is something that they need to deal with in the private moments of their own lives. Even without a letter of complaint, it will dawn on them sooner or later that maybe a box of candy or some flowers or a gift certificate for Terminix coverage is a better way to show neighborly appreciation.

    Now … about the possible outcomes of a letter. If you write them, you are either going to find a new fog of animosity around this neighbor or you’re going to find yourself the target of a more personal crusade to set you straight in the eyes of Almighty God (as interpreted through their own lenses). Do you really want either one?

    I’d just chalk it up to neighborhood strangeness. If the book is too bothersome, trade it in at a used book shop for something you’d want to read.

  2. Nikki (unregistered) on January 14th, 2005 @ 12:57 pm

    I find this sort of thing completely weird myself. Christians’ need to tell me about Jesus has always clashed with my own personal philosophy that if I wanted me some Jeebus, I would come find it by myself. I would be torn between returning the book with a nice note explaining that I didn’t need it, but thanks anyway, or just trading it in at a used store. If I happened to employ my better judgement, I would probably just trade it for something I wanted and keep my trap closed.

  3. Jen (unregistered) on January 14th, 2005 @ 1:08 pm

    You should sell the book on Half.com, then take Gia out to dinner with the money (which probably won’t be very much).

  4. bunni (unregistered) on January 14th, 2005 @ 2:54 pm

    I agree that it’s not worth the effort. You can’t reason with people so ensconced in their beliefs as this. My boyfriend’s parents are on this line and I had to bite my tongue all Christmas day not to freak out on their snide comments about liberals and the fact that you can’t say Merry Christmas in public schools. Which isn’t true. But if you do return it, maybe your story will end up as myth on the O’Rielly show too!

  5. Rusty (unregistered) on January 14th, 2005 @ 5:10 pm

    Bunni, that sounded just like my Thanksgiving and Christmas.

  6. Kendall (unregistered) on January 14th, 2005 @ 8:56 pm

    That’s interesting – I had something similar happen to me awhile back.

    You definitely should be gracious and honest. As you stated in your post – your beliefs are not far off from theirs.

    A simple note acknowledging the gift is appropriate.

  7. stevie (unregistered) on January 15th, 2005 @ 12:56 am

    Don’t waste your time on the letter. It will do nothing Nothing, whatsoever, except cause you more frustration.

    At least you don’t get monthly knock’s on the door from one of the 100000000 churches in my area of the woods asking me to come to services. The last ones even brought me a liter bottle of Coke and sat it by my front door with a note. I will have to tell you it’s a bit puzzling to me but, I’m always nice and polite……

    HOWEVER…….. the last two times I have invited them into my house to “sit and talk” for a moment and have some coffee and talk about religion.

    (Don’t worry I have 10 security cameras)

    Being a pro-photographer (among other things) I am quite sure that some of my photos were a bit “mesmerizing” to them as 4 of them sit above the sofa. You fill in the blanks on the subject matter. (grin).

    They didn’t come back this month…. yet. Not trying to be a smart ass, I actually invited the last two sets in to talk because I was interested to hear what they had to say. I’m already a Christian guy but, the rub is when my life and their life don’t mix, they just don’t come back.

    Need I say more?

  8. Bill (unregistered) on January 15th, 2005 @ 1:00 am

    Wow, I totally disagree with just about every other poster in these comments…and I’m probably the only one of them that lives in Conservative Cobb County.

    Tony, I’m an agnostic who’s still trying to figure this whole religion thing out, but I don’t see such an item as a “gift” at all. This seems more like an attempt to convert you to another person’s way of thinking. Everyone on here is being so gracious to these people. I would guess that’s because many of the posters are at least comfortable with the Christian faith, if not Christian, themselves. Would they be as cool about the whole thing if the “gift” was Islamic literature? Or what if it was a book about politics–perhaps explaining why your political rivals should rule the world? Heck, a religious gift can be as offensive as porn if you’re of an opposing faith…what if they left porn in your mailbox? (Okay, bad example. That could actually be cool.)

    Anyway, I’m not fond of people trying to convert me when they don’t even know me. If these people introduced themselves first, made friends with you and your wife, then eventually gave you such a book, I would suggest being gracious and thanking them for the gift. Religion and politics are supposed to be very personal, and the two topics you never broach in conversation with strangers. But if there’s a pre-existing relationship and comfort level, I guess it’s not so bad to bring it up. I’d STILL suggest returning the book (if it doesn’t ally with your beliefs) and letting them know that your spirituality is personal and different from theirs.

    However, since they didn’t take the time to get to know you and respect YOUR beliefs, the book seems more like a testimony about how you should accept theirs. It might also be a statement about their opinion of you. It could say, “I’ve seen you on the street, and you don’t look right with God,” or “I’d like to get to know you, but I want to make sure you’re one of us (or open to the possibility of being one of us), first.” I wouldn’t assume everyone on the block got the same gift, either, Tony. :) What if you’re the only one? What would that say about their first impressions of you?

    Unless you’re genuinely interested in reading it, I’d return it, with a polite note saying thanks, but it’s not your genre. If you’re worried about causing discord, don’t be. Just be polite about it, and perhaps open an invite to the other couple to come over for dinner. Returning the book will show you’re not into conversion, but the invite will show them you’re still willing to be friends. And if they’re true Christians, from what I understand, they’ll forgive and extend a hand of friendship DESPITE your heathen nature. (And if they really want to help you get to heaven, they’ll jump at the chance to come over, so they can show you how cool Christians really are, and how awesome! it is to have Jesus in your heart.)

    By the way, if you do read the book, let me know what you think. I read Case for Faith, and thought it was worthless. I won’t go into too much detail about why, I’ll just say that every negative thing the reviewer on Amazon posted about Case for a Creator was true about ‘Faith’, as well. It didn’t change my agnostic nature one bit. Maybe Strobel’s circular logic gets better in later books, however. I’m still trying to keep an open mind. ;)

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