Sunday, July 01, 2007

No day in the park

I preface this post with two things: I am not a snob, and my faith believes and encourages tolerance.

Outreach is a tricky term in the library world. It means providing home bound people library services, or going into schools to promote library programs. It also means sitting in a park for 6 hours (or a hot, stuffy civic center, depending on the weather), as children and adults try to take anything on your table that isn't nailed down. This event (which I have mentioned before in a previous post) is free and lots of different organizations, from non-profit, to commercial, to religious, provide games, activities or candy to children and their families. There is also music and entertainment. People who attend this don't necessarily live in town. I was signing kids up for our summer reading program, plus had bookmarks and coloring pages to be colored there or taken home. I saw some people trying to take markers. I heard kids say things like "This is stupid," and "I hate reading." Some people looked like characters in Carolyn Chute's The Beans of Egypt Maine. Other people were enthusiastic for me to be there and I saw kids and parents that I knew, so that was great. I don't mean to sounds snobbish. The library's presence at the park was really important.

One of the worst things about the day is that you must set up 2 hours in advance, and then wait for the event to start. I brought my knitting and some books. Since I was alone (no one from work wants to go to this) I really didn't want to leave my table, tent and materials there. So I sat and chatted with the booth beside me, creative reenactors from the 1800's. I watched people approach a local radio personality, who pretended that he recognized a lot of these people. I also saw a local pastor, with a few men, approach the booth beside me. This is where my issue with religious tolerance comes in. It seems to me that church groups have begun to market themselves to children as a way of reaching out, since children have not developed the skepticism that adults have. I saw this in Jesus Camp, I've experienced it in my personal life, and I see it in the community. I am also understanding it more by reading Eric Schlosser. They attract kids by sponsoring things kids like: fun fairs, sports camps, and movies. They do it in neutral places like schools and parks, and provide them free food, candy and then they push their agenda. I overheard the men talking, and the pastor was asking the reenactor about doing a program at such an event. They spoke for a few minutes and then strolled away. They looked at my table, did not stop, and continued on.

I've repelled a lot of religious people in my life. Could they sense my indifference, or do they see libraries as neutral places who safeguard people's rights? After all, we've been accused of of providing porn to children. We must be liberals. I had a roommate in college who belonged to a cult. She never bothered me but she relentlessly tried to get a hall mate to come to her meetings, which were held at a local hotel.

My skepticism started after I was invited to a volleyball tournament by a friend in high school. We played a few rounds and then the organizers asked participants to sit on the courts, with our heads down. He began to speak about getting saved, and encouraged kids to come forward who felt they had been done so. This went on for a while, and then we broke for lunch. I went to the restroom, and my friend was behind me. She pressed close to me near the sinks, and told me that she would not be going to heaven unless I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. No pressure. I told her that I didn't believe that, that I was more a believer of what you did in your life earned you eternal salvation and was not contingent on what the people around you did. I wasn't mad about the fact that the volleyball tournament was a religious event, although it would have been nice if I was warned what the true intent of the day was. After all, I tend to curse a lot at sporting events.

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