Tag Archives: church culture

Will the Pastor have a Beer with us?

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In our missions organization, drinking alcohol is taboo.  As a matter of fact, we all sign a contract saying that no matter what the cultural standards are in our mission field, we all agree that we won’t drink alcohol no matter what.  (Yes, we all know that Jesus drank wine.  But that’s not the point.)  This puts everyone on the same level playing field theoretically, but it can cause cultural problems ON the field.

For example, we have friends who serve in Ireland where drinking beer is not just a mile stone for manhood, it IS THE DEFINITION of manhood.  How a man holds his liquor is an indicator of how well he is respected in the community.  It is “sissy” for a man to go to the pub with his friends and just order a soft drink.  Not acceptable.  No, he must prove his worth with a foamy head.

This is a major problem for our friends.  They find themselves on the outs with the culture they want so badly to be IN with.  What to do, what to do?  (Personally, I have just enough ornery in me to break my written word when a higher need presents, if you know what I mean.  But my friends are true blue and won’t consider my alternative.)  So they are praying that the Lord will open up doors for them that don’t require alcohol for a key.

Missionaries have to deal with these kinds of ethical dilemmas all the time.  In some countries, it’s alright for Christians to smoke or drink or go out to eat with a member of the opposite sex who is not their spouse, the list of acceptable vices is long and colorful!  Gambling, movie going, using the Lord’s name in vain, all are cultural details that require a missionary to take care while searching for just the right stand to take.  It’s complicated, to say the least. What do you do when someone gives you a bottle of wine as a welcome gift?  What do you do if a tribal chief wants to smoke with you?  What do you do when a pastor invites your secretary out to lunch just the two of them?  Hmmm.  This is getting messy.

Vegan Church

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Last Saturday morning, my husband and I went on a coffee date to Starbucks.  We drove about a half hour to a very ritzy part of town called Escazu.  (Whenever you see Costa Rica on House Hunters International it’s either a beach location or a multimillion dollar house in this part of town.)  It’s very American over there.  As a matter of fact, we just got our first Starbucks in Costa Rica and, of course, it’s in Escazu.

We noticed as we were pulling into the parking lot that there was some kind of festival or market happening down the block.  There were cute white tents like the kind they use at the Uptown Art Festival in my hometown.  So I got excited, thinking that maybe it was an art exhibit or something.  After our coffee, we wandered down to the tents to take a look.

It was an organic, vegan and whole foods farmers’ market.  There were all kinds of foods that I have never eaten before and had to read the labels to identify.  And everything was suuuuuper expensive, like $20 for a bag of hemp chips.

All the vendors had a certain look about them.  At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I finally decided that I would call the look “Rich-Modern-Urban- Spiritualist.”  If “Hippie” ever became trendy, this would be the look.  If “Boho” married “Yuppie” this would be the prodigy.  I concluded that everyone obviously “belonged” in this kind of market because of their look.

It was kind of like crashing a convention of home school moms.  Everyone sort of had the same look, except for us.  (I say this with no malice because I WAS a home school mom for many years.)  My husband and I sort of didn’t fit in.

Yep, that’s the home school mom look.

Maybe it’s because we had both showered that morning and neither one of us smelled like Patchouli.  Maybe it was because we don’t drive a hybrid car or recycle religiously… I don’t know.  But whatever were the elements required to be a member of this group, we didn’t have them.  I walked away with an odd feeling of being excluded.  (Maybe I should have bought that $30 jar of seaweed jelly just to fit in.)

I asked Josh, “What do you think people think of us?”  I mean, I pegged those people into a category upon first sight, but what category would WE fit into?  It really is difficult to see how others view you. I wonder if my husband and I have any distinguishing characteristics or fashions that would allow people to guess how we voted in the last election, how many times a week we eat fast food, and if any seaweed has ever been ingested by either of us.

Then I got to thinking about the church.  Is this how people feel when the visit our churches?  Do they feel like they need to have some “cool factor” in order to fit in?  Does our appearance communicate how rich we are?  Are we more likely to enter church with a Starbucks cup in our hands or a Bible in our hands?  Is our church language designed to give newcomers the information they need to become a member of our group, or is it exclusive so that only long time members would understand the announcements?  Do new people walk away with a vague sense of “High School Cliques Deja-Vu” or do they feel warmly accepted and excited to return?

We should give careful thought to the kind of culture we are creating at church.  We should put ourselves in the position of a Newcomer and try to see how THEY would view us.  “What would other people think of us?” is a valid question.

No, I won’t turn to my neighbor and say “Jesus Loves You.”

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I have a little rebellious streak in me.  It’s somewhat related to a pet peeve of mine.  When I’m in church and the Pastor tells us all to do something as a group, I refuse to do it.  Even if he says, “turn to your neighbor and say ‘Jesus loves you’.”  I won’t do it.  Would my neighbor really believe that Jesus loved him just because the pastor told us all to say it? Or would my neighbor think we were a bunch of brain washed, Kool-ade drinkers if I did that?  Who knows, but it makes me feel creepy, so I don’t do it.

I hate manipulation.  It might be just a slight form of social group behavior, but it feels like manipulation to me.  We’re already in danger of actualizing that accusation in some of our churches, so I don’t think it’s healthy to perpetuate that stereotype with more mandated compliance from the pulpit.  Not only that, but it feels disingenuous.  It feels like a pointless time filler, a feel-good warm fuzzy, a charade of Unity.  I don’t know why Pastors do that.

I hate group participation.  This is another thing that rubs my fur the wrong way.  Maybe it’s just because I’m an American and I was raised in a culture of individualism, but I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum.  I don’t raise my hands with the group.  I don’t give Jesus a clap offering… unless I want to.  I don’t lift my Bible and recite a pledge before the sermon (I guess that’s kind of popular now).  I don’t like any of that, so I get a little prickly when I’m supposed to turn to my neighbor and repeat some pithy, pasty phrase.  I don’t repeat.  I look at my neighbor and roll my eyes.

I hate repeating.  If a pastor says, “repeat after me” you can bet that I just won’t.  I don’t recall Jesus ever saying, “Repeat after me, ‘Blessed are the compliant ones, for they shall find favor with God.'”  So I don’t repeat, I don’t copy, I don’t chime in, I don’t Heil Hitler.  NO to all of that.

So last week a friend posted something on his Facebook page that made me say, YES!  Now that’s what I’m talking about.  He said:

According to various Facebook posts and emails, I must surmise: I am in spiritual rebellion; I don’t love God; I don’t serve Christ; I don’t care about others. I could prove otherwise by clicking on “forward” or “share” each time I see, “If you love God you’ll forward/share this.”

Apparently I’m in that same sinful state of rebellion because I don’t pass along email prophecies, dooms day predictions, social gospel guilt trips, or anything with the above mentioned condemning tag lines.  Those kinds of stupid things just make us Christians look condemning, immature and shallow.  Click LIKE if you agree with me.  Otherwise you’re never, ever, ever going to be my friend ever again.  “Jesus loves you!”