life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

café dolce (one): diversity...

As mentioned a few days ago, I spent time in Sacramento again this week. It’s a pretty amazing and diverse city. I had a little extra time before my meeting, so I walked by Church of the Blessed Sacrament (that I thought was the Church of the Resurrection – did they change the name on me or am I that unobservant?) I think I may have already mentioned this in my post “stuff from on high,” but the porta-potty is gone. Guess no one needs it now way up high. But there was a sign hanging from the scaffolding catwalk. “Habemus Papem” it proclaimed. Right across the street is a microbrewery. I don’t know if the Holy Father drinks beer or not. (He’s from Germany – I think they disown you there if you don’t.) But I reflected that Jesus would probably think that was pretty cool, not meaning any offense to anyone who thinks otherwise. I would also remark that the church is only one block from California’s capitol building. This is good. California needs prayer right now.

I walked from the church down the mall that used to be K Street to Café Dolce. It is a small breakfast and lunch place frequented by lobbyists, support staff, business people, tourists from the Hyatt Hotel nearby, and a number of very interesting folks that daily make their way through the mall. I observe a great deal of diversity when I sit at Café Dolce. There are actually two parts to the restaurant. One is the line you go through to order whatever it is you want to eat. That’s farther back in the café, and is the line that you use if you are going to sit at one of the tables in the restaurant and eat. Most of the deep conversations go on at those tables. Then there is a register up front just inside the door where they sell espressos and fruit and other quick things to eat.

There is no physical wall between the two. But there is very definitely a wall.

What I noticed this time was how some folks only come in far enough to get a quick latte inside the door and then are off. The socio-economic and ethnic background of these people varies widely. While I was sitting there I saw three upscale lobbyist types stop for Café Dolce’s version of Starbucks – you know, where you have to link about seven or eight words to describe what you want? Triple-grande mocha with soy milk and no whip. They wore expensive business suits and assumed an air of self-importance with little thought for anyone else in the restaurant except to demonstrate that importance. Then there were the two women of color who ordered a banana, obviously on their way to work. They wore loose-fitting sweats. No “putting on airs” or anything with them. They were real. Not unpleasant at all. But it wasn’t hard to imagine that they wouldn’t be too comfortable going much farther than the first register.

There are tables outside Café Dolce, too, for people who don’t like the close atmosphere inside its depths. They need the open air. That’s where the smokers sit. I imagine the conversations out there are sometimes a bit saltier. I’ve seen the occasional street person sitting at one of those tables as I’ve walked by, sipping his coffee, hair unkempt, unwashed, sitting alone and not really bothering those around him, focused on the coffee cup, the table, locked inside his own world.. A completely different world.

And I wonder.

I wonder about the incredible diversity in our world. I wonder at the hit-and-miss flyby visits we in churches get from people who are so diverse from us.

Perhaps it is an innate characteristic of humankind. We like people who look like us, talk like us, smell like us and think like us. We’re not too tolerant as a species. Like bees from a particular hive we’ll even attack other bees that look exactly like us but are from a different hive. God help the beetle that walks by on accident.

Anyway, there are a lot of people who don’t want to sit inside in the “holy of holies” at Café Dolce. Occasionally someone might venture in and sit who is different. But they are just visitors. Like the older Japanese couple last Monday. They sat at one of the tables closest to the door and they appeared to feel quite uncomfortable. Or at least they were very quiet about things.

My friend Miller often remarks on the failure of the attractional church model. We assume that if people don’t want to come in and be a part of us that they don’t like what’s on the menu. So we change the menu. And we post signs outside the “café” that herald the new menu… or the new management… or whatever, hoping to attract more “clients”, people who will come in and consume our offerings. And they don’t. Or not many. And they don’t stay when they do come in and consume. And we worry about the future of our “café”. Will it survive? And we redouble our efforts to attract more.

Perhaps the issue isn’t menu at all, or at least not mostly. I’m thinking we’ve overdone the attractional component a bit.

This is a diverse world. US America is probably the most diverse place on the planet. We’ve thrown together people from every culture and language group known to humankind. And everyone we pass every day has a story of how they became the person they are. All the stories are unfinished. The stories told in the back of the café are remarkably similar. But all you have to do is look out the open door to see people whose stories vary widely. Some people are walking by with purpose, some meandering, often with coffee. I saw one guy in very casual clothing in a state of very minor disarray with a leatherbound Bible stuffed with papers under his arm. He walked toward the capitol, staring at the gutter on 12th Street as he walked along as if looking for something. He wore dirty athletic shoes. His eyes looked up as he neared L Street and he bounded across the street to Capitol Park, as with purpose. I passed two older women strolling down the mall holding up Watchtower publications.

How diverse are our ideas of God. And life. How rich and tragic and varied and human are our stories.

Perhaps McLaren and his friends are right. Perhaps the greatest valid currency today is not the church menu or the American dollar. Perhaps it is a pair of listening ears and hushed lips as we discover the diversity of the world that God has called us into. The people whom God has called us to love. And not judge as worthless by our apathy and inattention. Or to totally miss because we’re clustered and cloistered in the back of Café Dolce staring out the door praying that people will come in.

Maybe the best charge I could give all of us today is get out of the “sweet” café, and go forth and listen.

Grace and peace!



Anonymous Marshall said...

I have conducted an experiment when teaching the novel "Frankenstein" to college students. I have had them read the novel, then, before discussion, I have given a quiz that includes items such as: T/F - The creature's neck bolts help conduct electricity to bring it to life. T/F - Frankenstein is built from cadavers.

The quiz is a trick, of course. The creature in the book does not have neck bolts, it isn't named "Frankenstein" (that's its creator), and it isn't even built fron cadavers that we know. Students, however, always choose true or false because they knew the story before they read the book. They've seen the old movies or at least film stills. They know the story, so they can't read the story.

Something about this phenomenon, which I've come to call "Frankenstein Syndrome," reminds me of stereotyping. "Ask Bob what color goes with that - he's gay, he'll know." "You're Christian, so you voted for Bush." "Dude, get that black chick on the team!" We can't know the people because we already know the people.

So how are these thoughts relevant to the suture zone? In a couple ways.

First, they relate to how we know God. Some, the unchurched believers (there are lots of them), seem to "know" God often through public discourse - Christmas cartoons, jokes on The Simpsons, something a childhood friend said, those blond Jesus paintings... To build on Owen's metaphor, they don't make it deep into the cafe because they don't even speak the same language! They have not only learning to do, but unlearning to do.

(They may also have teaching to do, because God but may well be doing a great work in their lives.)

Those deep inside the cafe, on the other hand, may be hindered in knowing God because they already know him in another way altogether. They know the Bible. They can quote chapter and verse. They can explain why Acts 2 is congruent with John 20 on when the apostles received the Holy Spirit. They have "solved" the two fates of Judas. And, of course, they have mastered the essentials - they still gossip, yes, but they don't get drunk; they get creative at tax time, but they don't commit adultery...

Frankly, it is this latter group for which I have the most concern. The first remind me of the woman caught in adultery, while the second remind me of the Pharisees with stones in hand. People who already knew God got to know him better that day. I'm sure the woman's conception of God was changed by actual interaction with him. (Don't you suppose she expected to die for her sin?) And the men certainly experienced an attitude adjustment.

We need to let God be God. We need to be arrows, not destinations. And, to return to Owen's metaphor, we need to try a new chair once in a while.

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

One more word, if I may, about fear.

I gave a challenging writing assignment to a freshman rhetoric class recently. They were to chose an issue, research both religious and scientific viewpoints about it, and discuss whether those viewpoints are or are not reconcilable.

A large class that had been very vocal and participative all semester suddenly became a silent film soundtrack.

The next week, in an effort to stimulate conversation and to demonstrate one possible approach to the assignment, we read the first two chapters of Genesis, and I outlined the "Standard Model" of creation as revealed by the scientific community, including the probable age of the universe, galaxy and star and planet formation, the origins of life, and evolution.

No one would talk! Everyone seemed afraid to speak. My intuition is that they felt afraid to be criticized or judged. Understand, this was a very open group. An earlier assignment had been to explain the zeitgeist (spirit of the times) when they were coming of age. About 28 out of 30 students wrote openly about drug abuse, and shared those papers with me and with each other.

But they wouldn't discuss religion.

Our religious beliefs run so deep. And, as during the sex act, during religious debate we are most vulnerable. There are so many are so quick to correct. And there are so many Christians who are so un-Christ-like during the attack. Doesn't the Bible say somewhere to be gentle?

Perhaps, like Cafe Dolce, we should stop trying to get everyone inside and should just set up some tables out in the open air...

7:25 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

I want to add, though, that a lot of ministry goes on inside the walls of "cafe dolce" (you know, I can't honestly remember how to spell it!). I am not trying so much to criticize the institutional church as I am those who choose to simply remain inside and never venture out, those who want to do "church business" and focus on institutional survival rather than engage the diversity of the world as Jesus appeared to do.

I told John York (Lipscomb University/Woodmont Hills Family of God-Nashville) once that I felt that the problem with emerging church is that they will find institutional identity eventually. It is human nature to form institutions. God can work in them too. It's just that a lot of what passes for mission these days is woefully inadequate.

In the interests of full disclosure, I still attend and am part of an institutional church. There are many fine, honest, God-fearing and honoring people there. And much ministry takes place. Sometimes, as Tones noted when he ranted, we get caught up in the institutional tendency towards manipulation and other bad things.

If anyone else is a participant in an institutional Christian community (like I am) please don't take offense at my criticisms. They are meant for good, not harm.

Grace and peace!

11:30 PM  

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