Friday, September 7, 2012

Coffee, church, and religious baggage

I found myself at a coffee shop yesterday with some friends I hadn't seen in a while. I am not much of a coffee shop person (perhaps I am simply too introverted), but I don't have anything against coffee shops, persay. I am grateful for shared space to visit or work. I'm just not ingrained in that culture.

So I was not entirely surprised when, having asked the barrista for a tall iced decaf, he rolled his eyes at me, looked around to see if anybody had heard what he thought to a request ridiculous on its face, looked back at me and said, with a hint of derision, "You want regular?! We don't serve regular iced decaf here."


Here I thought I came in to get a coffee, and now I'm getting a lecture on acceptable coffee orders, as if my request clearly had too few adjectives to be a legitimate order. I didn't want a double non-fat extra-hot whatever whatever. I just wanted a coffee that wasn't hot (as we were sitting outside) and that wouldn't keep me up all night (because I am like an infant when it comes to afternoon caffeine consumption).

I fully admit that perhaps the moment was not quite as dramatic as I am making it sound. Perhaps the barrista was not actually judging me for a coffee order he found totally pedestrian. Maybe, just maybe, I have some coffee shop baggage that makes me assume that everybody behind the counter thinks he is better than I am.

All of this has me thinking about that other great shared space, the church. Unlike coffee shops, church is a culture in which I am ingrained, a language I do speak. I can walk up to the altar rail and know exactly what to say to the guy behind it. Heck, I am the guy behind the altar rail, and I have to wonder how people who are not used to church view me. I am well aware that people have church baggage--don't assume your pastor doesn't have some, too--but the challenge for the welcoming church is to welcome people AND their bags. The congregation should be full of porters, people who welcome and who offer to help carry those bags, because they are heavy and many of us have been carrying them for a long, long time.

This kind of hospitality is not exactly an easy sell, for those of us who are doing the welcoming are stuck in a system we already know how to navigate. We push back at the idea that we need to bend over backwards to accept those outside our walls, because it is so much work! It is enough to try to keep the doors open and the lights on, but doing anything else? It just seems too much.

But doing the difficult work of welcome to those who have religious baggage is even more important, for if we neglect this duty, we neglect our responsibility to those outside our doors. I would even go so far as to say that people with religious baggage are exactly the kind of people who need the church, the kind of people Jesus described as "weary and heavy-laden," the people Christ offered rest. These folks won't come to Christ unless we go to them, unless we offer a hospitable place where it is acknowledged that everyone has baggage--here, let me carry that for you--and all people, regardless of whatever culture it is in which they are ingrained, all people are welcomed and invited to take part in God's story.

This is work, but it is holy work, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it is the most important work in the whole world.

As for me, I'm not planning on going back to that coffee shop. The guy behind the counter made it pretty clear that I don't belong there.


  1. If you go back, maybe they can help you with your "coffee shop baggage." Isn't that what you're trying to accomplish by inviting people to the church with church or religious baggage? We don't want people who come to the church to have the same feelings that you had about going to the coffee shop. But you're right, it is definitely hard work & important work.