Rearranging Other People’s Furniture
by Debbie Hooper Cosier | 3 April 2020 |
Our living rooms are very personal spaces that we occasionally invite special people into. While most of us have similar functional items, it’s in the detail that the similarities end. I know a Dr. Who fan who has an (almost) fully-functioning, six-foot Dalek in a corner of his living room. Another person I know keeps a leaf blower charging behind the sofa.
My own living room is over 50 percent glass. My front door is two oversized glass panels that slide behind two other oversized glass panels. This would never work in suburbia, but I live far out in the country. Around here, people call before they call in. Neighbours let you know before they pop around to retrieve a wandering doggie, or bring a petition to pressure the council into grading our dirt road again. Postman Steve honks his horn before coming down the long dirt driveway to deliver packages.
I’m very grateful for this because a large glass window forms the outside wall of our ensuite shower. While affording a great view of the grassy hillside and a towering ghost gum with its little brother, a sturdy rosa-sinensis hibiscus, the shower nonetheless fronts the driveway.
Not our design, and a feature we much prefer to enjoy privately.
One morning, I heard a car drive in shortly after my husband left for work. Thinking he’d returned for something, I wiped a viewport in the steam of the glass shower wall to see what he was doing, only to find Plumber Pat’s apprentice standing there.
Poor Plumber Pat’s apprentice, is all I will say about that.
Ignoring the Warning
It’s not that we fail to provide a warning. We have a sign at the top of the driveway that says “Private property! Keep out!” And so it’s been with a mixture of resentment and fury that I’ve had this on-again, off-again discussion with certain purveyors of religious reading materials.
One hot summer’s day a while back, a pair stepped onto the front deck and up to my wide-open glass doors. Not finding me, they wandered down to see if anyone was in the home office.
The desk in my home office faces a window that looks over a peaceful glade. This particular day, I had my fan on high blast to cope with the steamy summer heat we endure here, so close to the Queensland border.
So it happened that I didn’t notice when they arrived until someone cleared his throat loudly. I turned to see a man, woman and child staring at me from the open door. This gave me a heart attack—or it could have.
There was a scene.
Actually, Many Scenes
We’ve had a series of such encounters over the preceding several years.
Scene 1 (circa summer of 2013)
ME: Standing at my front door, I feel exposed because my living room yawns open behind me. Politely closing down conversation starters designed to lead to revelations of truths of enormous importance to them, I wave bye-bye as they walk back down the stairs. All the while, I feel a little sorry for them—but also for myself.
Scene 2 (circa spring of 2014)
Repeat of Scene 1.
Scene 3 (circa spring of 2015)
ME: Hearing their car crunch down the gravel driveway and approaching them before they can hop out, I accept a pulp-paper pamphlet, and interrupt their leading questions to say something like: “Actually, I’m not trying to be rude or anything, but here in the country we’re used to a lot of privacy (like that sign at the top of my drive says) so it’s quite an unpleasant shock to get surprise visits from people we don’t know coming to our front door. I also have this shower facing the driveway and—yes, thank you, your reading materials can go into my mailbox instead.”
THEM: Making reassuring noises that they will ensure these instructions go into their church database.
Scene 4 (circa summer of 2016)
ME: Elevating three feet above my study chair upon hearing loud coughing, I turn around to find a miniature family staring at me from the office door. I regain my composure and accompany them to their car, which had stealth-crept past my house and parked just outside the office. I see two more people through heavily-tinted windows (ironic!). I explain that I already have my beliefs but that they’re welcome to leave their reading materials in my mailbox. “And please, I do not like to be interrupted from my work by strangers who want to discuss and change my beliefs. Sorry, and thank you.”
THEM: Reassuring me that, this time, the instructions will definitely go into their church database.
Rearranging the Furniture
This story started in my living room. And it occurs to me that our beliefs are much like living room furniture. Some pieces hold a place of honour in our belief systems because we consider them to be functional and comfortable. Sometimes our most valued pieces are the beliefs we’ve inherited from generations before us, or beliefs we’ve picked up on our travels or from friends.
At times we have a large dominating belief system that we’re obsessed with—and maybe they’re even a little weird, sitting there like a Dalek, impossible to ignore. Sometimes it’s more subtle, like the leaf blower charging behind the couch. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to others, but it does to us. Sometimes, we reconfigure our age-old beliefs but find faded patches where they used to stand, or we rearrange everything a bit to avoid sharp corners.
I think back to earlier years of my life when I was trying to arrange other people’s furniture: helping at evangelistic meetings, trying to slip in a bit of unobtrusive doctrine when talking to an unbelieving friend, even—Lord, help me—going with others door to door when I felt forced to.
As far as I can remember, no converts came from this work. I wonder how many people regarded me in the same way that I regard my obtrusive visitors. As someone giving unasked-for advice about how to rearrange their mental and spiritual furniture, unwelcome advice that made them roll their eyes when I left, and hoping they’d never see me again.
The internet has been another place for forceful belief arrangers—and one that hasn’t worked very well. Hardly anyone is ever convinced by social media rants or stealth evangelistic videos. The political memes I see on Facebook are mostly ignored, unless I agree with them. And if the sender gets too persistent, he or she usually gets blocked. Social scientists have found social networks a rather good laboratory for the concept of sorting, which means we tend to tribalize around certain beliefs rather than look at alternatives closely. The memes that we’re attracted to aren’t even designed to convince us anymore, but merely to raise the enthusiasm of true believers.
How about advertising? Everyone wants to convince people to buy what they have—even informing us of problems we didn’t know we had (like “static cling”) before offering the solution.
Everyone seems to want to rearrange everyone else’s belief furniture nowadays.
And we’re doing this with everyone’s furniture but our own. We try to replace other people’s items with beliefs we think are better. This could be political, philosophical or existential. It could be about religion, the climate, fiscal policy, refugees, walls, guns, social policy, 5G, education, medical insurance, mining.
Religious Belief Rearrangers
As for witnessing: are any of us wise and successful enough in our walk with God that we get to tell others that they should only understand the Bible like we do? Have Adventist beliefs—from vegetarianism to the second coming to the close of probation—made us so thoroughly happy and good and kind that everyone in the world would be better off if they rearranged their mental furniture to match? I’m not sure. I know that goes against everything I’ve been taught about going into all the world and preaching the gospel—which, for Adventists, means Adventist doctrines and church membership, not the basic fact that God loves us. Yet it no longer appeals to me, any more than listening to sneaky tract-handerouterers who come to my door.
Like most people, I get pretty emotional when I recognise belief systems that are damaging to their owner or others. However, imposing my beliefs, not listening to others’ viewpoints, even resorting to verbal bashing like we see too often on social media? These are not things that work. People only change when they can come to the table as equals, when their thoughts and feelings are respected, and when they can draw the curtains for privacy sometimes.
This pandemic has forced everyone home, all at once. And maybe that’s a chance for all of us to stop and think for a minute. We’ve been sent back to our living rooms to live amongst and with our choices—to decide whether the inclusions and arrangements that make up our belief system really fit together, truly serve society, genuinely benefit others and ourselves, and authentically represent our creator. To rearrange our own furniture.
Maybe that’s what “staying home” is about. It’s deciding what I need to change, what I’ll take into the future, and what I can give away that really helps people instead of offering them stuff neither I nor they really need anymore.
Debbie Hooper Cosier is a former teacher, now a content writer, who lives with her husband, Barry, and sons, Jamie and Braden, in the Tweed Valley in northern New South Wales, Australia. Her website is freshwriting.com.au.