What’s a Sanctuary?

This afternoon, I went to a new hair stylist. That means I went somewhere other than my garage for a haircut.

When I first met my stylist, I’ll admit I made some quick, uninformed judgments.

From outward appearance, my new stylist seemed rough around the edges…the kind of rough that makes one think, “I wouldn’t want to cross her or meet her in a dark alley.”

As the haircut proceeded, I discovered she has led a difficult life. However, she is trying hard to make better decisions and do her best to make a decent life for her family. She is a single mother of two young children. She was also extremely funny.

She asked what I do for a living. I told her I am a pastor. That made her laugh. She told me her older sister is a minister and is always telling her she needs to go to church.

She told me she went to church when she was young. But, that particular church was very strict and made her uncomfortable as a teenager.

She tried church when she lived in Atlanta. But, that church spent too much time talking about money.

She said the only church she’d been invited to in Lafayette started too early. I asked her what too early meant. She said “anything before 9:30.”

She indicated that she would like her children to have the “church experience.”

So, I invited her to our church, indicating we have a service at 9:45 and 11. She said, “11am. I could do that!”

She asked where the church is located. I told her it’s on the corner of Veterans and 18th. She seemed unsure of the location. So, I explained that it was just down the street and we have a construction project going on.

She asked me what we’re building. I told her about the new sanctuary.

And, when I said “sanctuary”, she gave me a confused look and asked, “What’s a sanctuary?”

As I explained what a sanctuary is, she said, “oh, the big room where you have meetings.”

The conversation helped remind me that “Christianese” goes beyond the big theological terms. It also includes terms like sanctuary, narthex, chancel, altar, and other terms we assume people understand.

Now, I’m not suggesting we have to do away with the terms. However, explanations are necessary if we plan to continue using the terms. Education is key. You don’t have to call the sanctuary an auditorium or the chancel a stage. However, you might consider explaining the difference.

I’m glad I didn’t cut my own hair in the garage today!

Opportunistic Christians

Recently, First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama posted a picture online with the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. I believe the FLOTUS should be applauded for drawing attention to this heinous crime and injustice that has taken place.

bring bac

However, as usual, some opportunistic Christians have seized this moment to address Obama’s “pro-choice” view. Opportunistic Christians (like any other type of opportunistic person/group) are excellent at twisting any subject matter into an argument about whatever their platform issue happens to be.

Last night, I viewed several Twitter feeds that posted the picture with statements like “I wish she cared as much about babies as she did these girls”, “I’d be more willing to believe she cares if she didn’t want to kill babies”,  and “wish she cared as much about the millions of unborn children who are murdered” to quote a few. Rather than drawing attention to the issue, these folks used it as a platform to launch their pro-life agenda.

A person I follow happened to be one of the offenders. I replied, “With statements like this, do we really wonder why people think Christians are too judgmental?”

That was the launching pad for a little back-and-forth with a “friend” of my “friend”. I made the statement about Christians being viewed as judgmental and received a message that read, “twist not Scripture, lest ye be like Satan, Jason.”

Wow! That’s quite a reaction based on my simple statement. And, that was just the first from this “friend of a friend.” From there, I simply posed a few questions. The responses helped me realize something about this particular opportunist…he is right and everyone else is wrong. That’s generally the case with the opportunist. Later, I discovered this “friend of a friend” is an “open-air evangelist”, which means he’s one of those guys who stands on the corner with a bullhorn and some signs letting everyone know they are going to burn in hell, unless they agree to his particular brand of theology.

So, let’s be clear…#BringBackOurGirls has nothing to do with abortion. It’s about the brutal kidnapping of young girls. First Lady Obama is trying to draw attention to a horrible crime that many will simply choose to ignore. Let’s also be clear that pro-choice people don’t want to “kill babies”. That’s a very simplistic and ill-informed reduction of the pro-choice platform. But, that’s another blog for another time.

Those who choose to bash the FLOTUS due to her pro-choice position rather than focus on her noble efforts to keep this story in front of us have completely missed the point.

Put the politics aside and simply realize that this is a horrible criminal injustice. Put your agenda aside and draw together to help create a world where things like this simply won’t happen. Making it about something else won’t help us resolve the issue at hand. I’m not saying that healthy discussions about abortion are not important. I’m just encouraging us to think about the time and place.

The whole thing reminded me to simply focus on the matters at hand. I need to make sure I don’t try to use situations to push my own agenda.


Pushy Christians & the Mosey

I love the Mosey Down Main Street! It’s an incredible, family friendly community gathering featuring great music, entertainment, community organization booths, local artisan booths, tasty food, amazing beverages, and so much more! It’s fun to slowly walk up and down Main Street, visiting booths, listening to music, people watching, and enjoying the foods and beverages. I always bump into friends, acquaintances, and my favorite local business owner (who generally greets me with, “Hey Pastor, how’s it going?”).

This evening, in addition to running into friends, acquaintances, and my favorite local business owner, I ran into some pushy Christians.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m all for Christians. I am one. I love me some Jesus, but, I’ve got to be honest…Christians can be some of the most annoying people EVER!

Before I get too far into this, I will say, I ran into a number of Christian folk who seem to understand how to behave in public and still be a faithful witness for Christ. These pushy Christians, however, are just annoying.

Here’s how it all unfolded: The girls wanted to stop at a particular booth that I noticed was run by a particularly conservative church in town. I really didn’t want to stop, but when your two little girls want to stop, you stop. While the girls browsed the booth with their mother, I stood off to the side, dreaming of those sweet LBC Mosey cups. One of the booth workers came over and attempted to peddle some of their goods. I politely indicated that I was not interested. The person continued to try and convince me that I needed to buy what they were selling. Again, I politely indicated that I was not interested. A third time, the person tried to convince me that I needed what she was selling, but ended her pitch with, “no pressure though.” I again politely indicated that I was not interested. Let us remember, my mouth was watering for one of those sweet LBC Mosey cups.

Then came the moment where I simply got pissed off. The worker attempted to guilt me into buying some of their products that I had already indicated I was not interested in. “All of our proceeds go to help our food pantry. I know it might not seem like much, but $5 goes a long way to feed hungry people. Most people don’t know it, but a dollar is more than nothing.”

Here’s what sarcastically went through my head at that time: “No crap? A dollar is more than nothing? That’s brilliant. I’d never thought of it that way before. You have opened my eyes. Of course I’ll take some of your puppy chow, coffee and Mt. Dew. I mean, this is the Mosey and I came here for street food and whatever beverages they are pushing at the LBC. But, now I’ve seen the light. Not only do I no longer desire street food and LBC beverages, I want to gluttonously indulge in your puppy chow, Mt. Dew, and awful coffee. Thanks!”

Now, the cause is truly noble. But, the approach was off-putting.

I was annoyed. All I could think was, “Freaking pushy Christians. You’re giving us all a bad name. The Pride Lafayette booth is right across from you. I want to go hang out with them because they are cool and won’t try and push me or guilt me into purchasing their goods. They’ll just share love and good vibes and wish me well. You probably haven’t even interacted with them, at least not on a positive note. But, no, I’m with you…you try to make me feel guilty. Is that the only way you can convince me to buy your crappy product? To guilt me? To make me feel like by saying that I’m not interested in your crap is to say that I don’t want to help feed hungry people? Give me a break.”

My guess is that the evangelistic efforts of these pushy Christians are very similar to their pushy sales techniques. And, that’s part of the problem the church faces today. We are so focused on the “sell” that we overlook the customer.

Therefore, I’d like to say some things to pushy Christians…

1. Stop it! If someone politely (or not so politely) indicates they are not interested in whatever you are selling, respect that.

2. Be respectful. Again, if someone politely (or not so politely) indicates they are not interested in whatever you are selling, respect that. What if I were a diabetic and that’s why I was politely turning down your goods? Or, say you were trying to share Jesus with me and I was already a Christian? You are so focused on the sell that you don’t take the person into consideration.

3. Listen. At one point, I indicated that I’m all about feeding hungry people. I even tried to talk about our support of food pantries and Kids Against Hunger. But, the person simply wasn’t listening. I knew she wasn’t listening because she kept going back to her product.

4. Build relationships. Instead of being so focused on selling your goods, try and actually see as much value in the person as you do the product.

5. Don’t use pressure or guilt. Look at me…I don’t need puppy chow or Mt. Dew. I need a salad. But, because of your relentless tactics, I may have given in and made a horrible decision for my health. Say you were attempting to “sell Jesus”, what would you have given me to sustain that relationship? Would you have just chalked me up as a success? Would you have connected me with others on the journey? Or would you just leave me to figure it out for myself?

So, pushy Christians, while the cause is extremely noble…whether selling puppy chow or Jesus…the tactic of the sell is crucial. Less pressure, more love.

Honesty is NOT the Best Policy???

Today, I read an article listing out things pastors should never do in the pulpit. Yep, another list that sucked me in and, well, pissed me off.

The basics of the article implied that pastors should present themselves as having it all together, as being righteous and holy, one who never questions issues of the faith, never brings coffee to the pulpit (which was in the first paragraph…an indication I should have stopped reading), never share struggles, and never allow someone with different beliefs to share, and so on. Oh, and it was very clear, from the article, that pastors should also not be women. Yep, I should have stopped reading at the statement on coffee.

I believe the idea behind the article is that, if pastors are too honest, they will appear weak and their witness will no longer be effective.

In other words, don’t be honest. Don’t be real. Don’t be authentic. Don’t be transparent. Instead, play the game, play the role, and keep up appearances. After all, we wouldn’t want people to get the idea that pastors are actually humans…every bit as sinful as those sitting in the pews and outside the doors.

When I read lists like this, I can determine a couple of things: a) the author is ultra-conservative, b) the author is old, c) all of the above.

These days, no one is being fooled by the pastors who present themselves as having it all together.

It is my considered opinion that people are looking for pastors who are open, honest, and transparent. No one desires the old “bait and switch”.

People crave relationships. People desire relevance. These two (relationships and relevance) are often found in the midst of open, honest, transparent, and authentic communities.

To admit that we struggle with certain passages of Scripture, yet still cling to the way Jesus, isn’t weak…it’s honest.

To admit that we struggle with certain “sins”, yet find hope in the grace, compassion, and mercy of Christ isn’t weak…it’s honest.

To admit that we don’t have it all together isn’t weak…it’s honest.

To drink coffee in the pulpit is a sign that we understand coffee to be one of the great ways God demonstrates great love for all of humanity.

We do more damage than good when we attempt to keep up appearances and then people discover that we’re all too real. The pastor who admits shortcomings, who admits doubts, who brings up questions is probably more credible than the one who keeps all that private, only to be discovered later.

I’m pretty sure the author of the article would dismiss me as a “pastor” as soon as he discovered that I didn’t tuck my shirt in on Easter Sunday (or any other Sunday for that matter) and that I sometimes wear blue jeans…because that’s who I am and I’m not going to pretend to be anyone else…even in matters of dress!

The days of the pastor on a pedestal are long over. Too many scandals have revealed that we really aren’t any different from anyone else. Trust and credibility of the “office” of pastor have been shattered by our lack of honesty, transparency, and openness.

Should we be standard bearers in the faith community? Absolutely. We aspire to a “higher” calling. Should we be open, honest, transparent, and authentic? Absolutely. Should we be held accountable and held to a higher standards? Sure. Should we pretend that we are something we are not? Absolutely not.

So, I guess honesty IS the best policy!