I’m sitting in Starbucks, this is one I don’t frequent, but I thought I’d give it a try. This is me stepping out and taking a big risk: trying a new Starbucks.
Yeah, I live on the edge.
Right now, there’s a lady sitting a few chairs down from me, talking to a friend. And she’s really irritating me. Sure, I’m a pastor. I’m supposed to love people, and I really do. But this lady is really bothering me.
It’s her language. Not nasty words, but more the particular “language” she speaks quite fluently…
She’s speaking “Christianese,” —what I call when someone constantly throws religious-sounding words in their conversation. “The Lord…” this and “Praise God” that.
My all-time least favorite is when you innocently ask a Christian how they are doing, and they reply, “Well I’m blessed.” As if they just climbed down from the Sermon on the Mount, whistling the Beatitudes!
Now back to the woman, every problem her friend brings up, she responds with a platitude. An overly-simplistic response to the really serious questions of life:
“I’m losing my job. I’ve really got to find another.”
“Why? The Word says, ‘He shall supply all my needs according to his riches in glory’”!
“My daughter wants to move out, but I think she’s too young…”
“Just let go and let God”!
“My mom just got diagnosed with cancer last week.”
“Remember, ‘I am the Lord God that healeth thee!’”
And it really adds insult to injury if you say those things in a sing-songy tone like someone teaching a child in Sunday school. Someone has come to you with real problems and you’re tossing Bible verses and bumper sticker slogans at them.
To be really honest, listening to her is actually causing me to pray really hard right now.
I’m praying she’ll go away.
As curmudgeonly as that sounds, I do love people. So why does she bother me so?
Maybe it’s her syrupy Southern accent (I’m from Alabama, so I may have a trace as well).
Maybe it’s her big hair (again, guilty).
But she seems like all she’s missing are some gold-covered chairs. I think one of the religious cable channels is missing a hostess.
Oh, and another thing: she’s loud.
My prayers have now ceased and moved to an inner monologue of disgust.
OK, lady, I’m glad you’re happy – it’s the “Joy of the Lord,” you’d probably claim. Yet your laugh is one that’s so loud and self-conscious, it just seems designed to call attention to itself. Maybe you see it as a testimony to others in the room. Maybe that’s why you’re so loud, because you want people to think you’ve got something they don’t.
I’ll admit, I’m pretty sure she has something I don’t: a condescending, sanctimonious attitude.
But I’m pretty sure I don’t want it. At all.
I believe she has something in addition to Jesus, something I remember from churches where speaking “her way” was supposed to be a sign you’re spiritual. She probably thinks that’s what proves she’s a true believer, although it strikes me as anything but authentic.
More than just Jesus, she’s got “churchiness.” Buckets of it, coming out of every pour and dripping underneath all that heavy makeup.
Sadly, she’s the poster child of why a lot of people say they don’t like Christians. If you had a problem, she’d be the last person you’d share it with. That’s because churchy people feel they’ve always got to have a way-too-easy answer for every question. And they respond to the pain of others as if it’s an indictment against God’s goodness.
I remember seeing The Sound of Music as a kid. I grew up Baptist, so the idea that you could just wear something like a priest or nun that made you automatically spiritual was a new one on me. I actually dress up as a priest one Halloween, just to see what it felt like.
As if being truly spiritual and close to God were only as easy as putting on a costume.
It may not be her fault the lady at Starbucks is this way. Some spiritual leader probably made her feel she had to always give an answer, even if it was a trite one that insults the depth of another person’s pain.
Maybe they told her faith is a bunch of quick, easy answers to the dark, devastating stuff life is often made of.
But real faith is nothing like that. Real faith is rarely as sure of itself as that lady sounded. Real faith knows God doesn’t always do what we want him to. Heck, there are times God doesn’t always even make sense to me.
No, real faith is saying, Yes, I believe God, even though…
…I don’t understand him.
…I don’t always feel him.
…I’m clueless of any good answers at times.
…things don’t always make any sense to me.
People who can say those things out loud in a Starbucks are the ones I want to talk to. The ones whose struggles are real, dreams are yet unfulfilled, and yet they still believe. They trust, they wait, they cry, they plead…and then, they get up and trust again.
Recently, a friend of mine told me he has trouble calling himself a Christian. At first, I pushed back at him, asking why in the world would he not want the honor of being called by that name.
Now, I think I get it. It’s not Jesus’s name he minds, it’s being lumped in the same category as some churchy people.
Jesus? I’d die for him.
But churchy Christians? I’m dying to get away from them.
Sure God has reminded me that, in spite of how much she’s irritated me, it’s my job to love the lady with the big hair and loud mouth. I’ll admit there are lots of things about me that don’t really scream “authenticity” to a world dying for the real thing. But if you have to advertise your faith that loudly, maybe it’s not that real after all…
Maybe all that volume is so you can drown out what your life is already saying.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.