There are a few things that I have found hard to adapt to since moving to the Midwest. One of them is the omnipresence of religiosity.
I was reminded of this early this morning in a most strange circumstance. It was the beginning of my husband’s second triathlon of the season. It was a short triathlon, and had attracted a few more than 100 participants, men and women, young and old, from as far away as Nebraska, Belgium, Switzerland and Minnesota.
As the sun rose in the east, the announcer gathered the competitors around the starting line and welcomed them to the event. After rousing the crowd with some good pep talks, an announcement that the Nebraskans would have to run faster than the others to get anywhere, and an introduction of the referree, who had the power to disqualify anyone, he introduced the director of the Twin Lakes Christian camp—the event sponsor.
I hoped, but did not pray, that he would keep it clean. He didn’t. After telling the crowd that this event has been a growing and successful event each year since its inception, he said: Let’s pray. I looked over at my husband, and we exhanged knowing and humored glances, and then the prayer started. First, the director thanked God for bringing such a glorious day upon us, good for a morning of racing. Then he invoked the name of Jesus, as in Thank You Jesus! for blessing us all.
As he prayed, head bowed to God’s Green Earth below, I looked around the crowd. My intention was to see if any one was not praying. I saw one or two—aside from my husband—without a head lowered in mimicry. But the majority of the 100-plus folks gathered in the circle obliged with the prayer. Maybe they had known before hand this was a Christian event.
As a non-Christian, sudden explosions into prayer to Jesus and God, have always been strange. Actually, invoking God outside of a religious service was not just rare—it didn’t happen. But since moving to the Midwest, I have come to know these gatherings and outbursts of praise as commonplace. They say the Bible Belt extends from Florida’s panhandle northward along the Atlantic to northern Virgina and southern West Virginia, westward, swallowing all of Missouri and the east end of Kansas, and southward through Texas and back along the Gulf Coast. Iowa is technically not in the Bible Belt. Rather, it is the Corn Belt. But this geographic omission does not exclude it from its fervent adherence to Protestant Evangelism.
I have lived other places (Santa Maria, Ca.) where there seemed to be more churches per capita than gas stations, restaurants and shoe stores put together, but there was no outward invasion of my religious sensibilities. I know people may tag me as a heathen for writing this, but I just find it a little presumptuous that a stranger would assume everyone needs to pray before subjecting their bodies to athletic torture in a swim, bike, run. I certainly don’t. And I can bet that Jesus did not help guide my husband to a fourth place win. Perhaps one would argue that Jesus could have helped him achieve a first place finish if he had just prayed harder, or even believed in the first place. But who am I to speculate? Who are any of us to speculate that something so irrational could exist?
Bottom line, during future impromptu prayer groups with a bunch of total strangers, I would like someone to allow for an opt-out for us non-Christians. Thank you, Jesus!