Friday, March 26, 2004

How People View Church

I thought this piece from Living Room was so good I decided to print all of it here.

It was a quiet Wednesday morning in my local cafe - a place where I go every day if I can, partly because it serves the best coffee in Melbourne, but partly because I'm wanting to make some connections there with the staff and regulars.

I was sitting in my favorite position in the window on a comfy lounge chair. I love the spot because I can watch people go by on the street but also still see everything that is happening in the cafe - I'm a people watcher from way back.

I was sipping on my latte while working on a powerpoint presentation for a talk I'm doing on Saturday when 'Jo', a waitress who I've been getting to know, came up to me to clear my table. She looked over my shoulder at my laptop screen and said - 'You look rather perplexed - what are you working on?'

I'm never quite sure how to explain what I do - the talk I was preparing for was to our denominational heads - I wondered how to explain without freaking her out. She knows I'm 'religious', she sees me reading my bible there some days and sees me meet with people from my community of faith there each week - but we've never talked explicitly about 'Church'.

In the end I told it as it was - 'I'm preparing a presentation for the national leaders of our church - I am a bit perplexed, I'm trying to work out what to say.'

She just stood there looking at me. She did look a little freaked, but she didn't move away from the table. I sat there waiting for her response. It didn't come - she just stood there looking, thinking and seemingly waiting for me to say something.

It was one of those moments where I began to rack my mind for something to say. Do I change the topic? Should I sit her down and explain the gospel using a picture of two cliffs and a cross representing a bridge? Should I gather up my stuff, pay for my coffee and run screaming from the cafe never to return?

I said none of these things but instead found myself asking her a question that if I'd thought about it would never have asked.

'What would you say to them?'

Again she stood looking - time stood still - the silence between us was excruciating. There she stood, peroxided hair with a tinge of pink, pierced nose and lips, ripped baggy pants, tiny crop top, exposed midriff, tattoos. I took in the site and wondered if I'd actually said the question out loud.

Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity 'Jo' responded to me. Not with words however but with hearty laughter. Actually it didn't start with laughter, it started with smiling eyes, progressed to a giggle hidden behind a hand and then progressed to a hearty belly laugh. Others in the cafe began to look, hopefully thinking that she was laughing at some witty joke I'd told her rather than laughing at me. I didn't know how to respond, so I began to laugh with her, all the time wondering what, or who, the joke was.

She wiped her tear filled eyes and tried to compose herself. 'Sorry' she said. 'I don't mean any disrespect. I can't imagine talking to people like that, but if by some strange chance I did, the only thing I can think to tell them is that the Church is a complete Joke.'

I wasn't quite sure how to take Jo's words. Part of me did feel a little offended to be honest, but most of me found myself agreeing with a lot of how she explained herself. She went on to share that she had had some experience of the church growing up but had left as a teen. In more recent years she had been back on a few occasions for friends baptisms and weddings. She described those experiences as 'like visiting another planet' and 'like stepping back in time'.

She very articulately explained that her friends just didn't talk, relate or behave like people did in church. Add to that her opinion that the church wasn't really handling issues like ordaining women, sexuality or child abuse by clergy very well and her opinion was simply that it was all a joke that she could never take seriously.

At that point 'Jo' had to serve someone else and I was left to ponder her words. The cafe got busier and there was no opportunity to talk more except for the moment when I went up to pay. I thanked her for her thoughts and said I might quote her in my presentation. She said that was cool and almost embarrassingly said - 'Don't get me wrong, I'm a very spiritual person, but I just didn't find church to be a spiritual place - sorry'.

I wonder if I have guts to use her words on Saturday!?

Update - well I've finished preparing for my talk and Jo's words are central to what I shall share. I'll update here on how they are received when I get home tomorrow night. No posting tomorrow - off to Adelaide now. Have a good weekend.

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