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.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

drink coffee...

I saw a sign on a drive-through espresso place that said “Drink coffee!” Please understand that I have some sympathy with the sign writer. I got up at 4 a.m. yesterday for another early flight to Sacramento. It took about five cups of strong coffee and two triple-grande mochas to keep me at least semi-comatose through the day. So “drink coffee” is an admonition that I understand.

But it reminded me of the cartoon character in vintage 1940s Warner Brothers offerings. A guy, obviously affected by the depression, walks around with a sandwich sign that says “Eat at Joe’s”. It’s sort of a direct attempt at influencing behaviors, I guess. We’ve gotten better since then. We have million dollar commercials, pop-up ads, licensed products displayed in movies. We’ve even used subliminal advertising to try to influence behavior.

I wonder. Is this the same as our “come to church” and “come to Jesus” messages? The little games we play to get people to come so we can blast them with the message? Or?

Maybe I don’t want to drink coffee or eat at Joe’s or go to church. Maybe I’m mad at God sometimes. His arms may be open but I may not be in the hugging kind of mood. Maybe I refuse to be manipulated. Maybe I don’t want to cut my hair. Or, more accurately, I don’t want to cut my hair because you want me to cut my hair. (Those who know me know what a ridiculous argument this is since I have no hair. But you get the point, right?) It’s a control issue. It’s manipulation. The modern church is very much into that kind of thing. “Do this,” we say, “or God is going to do that to you.”

Randy, our preaching pastor, talked about this on Sunday. He made the point that God, being God, has a right to demand certain responses from us. Randy wasn’t being mean at all. He was just saying that kings such as God have a reasonable expectation of being obeyed. I wouldn’t argue with that. But, though that may be true, that’s not how I’ve seen God work. God has often been more subtle than that. If he wasn’t, we would live in a world filled with thunder as God reacted to our constant missteps. And zap would be a more common word in our vocabulary, I think.

The great Christian thinker (and writer) of last century, C.S. Lewis, experienced this with God. The more he tried to run away as a committed atheist, the more God confronted him, until in the end he describes himself as the most reluctant convert in all of Great Britain. It was as if, he says, he and God stood facing each other with guns drawn and God said, “Put your guns down. Let’s talk.”

I’m afraid the church has told the world to “Drink coffee!” Then when the world has not responded, we have followed up with the words of the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s fairy tale. “Off with their heads!” I know that’s an overstatement. But is it really that much of an overstatement?

Maybe, instead of “Drink coffee!” God simply wants to look the world in the eye and say, “Hey, wanna go to Starbucks?”

It’s worth a thought.

Grace and peace!



Blogger Tones said...


I noticed this very thing last Wednesday. We had a concert (rap) for some of the neighborhood kids and at the end the had an "altar call". They used an excrutiating amount of manipulation to get the kids "saved". One point they said that being a Christian will allow you to "own all the jewelery that you want". At the end they gave a series of instructions: Raise your hands if you are not saved. Now, keep your hands up if you want to be saved. Now, if you want to ask Jesus into your heart come to the front of the stage. Now, repeat this prayer after me. It was all I could do to keep from bursting into flames. I just stood there slack-jawed watching a train wreck. The sad thing is that they go away thinking that they saved fifteen kids (most were under third grade) and there was no relationship at all.

It was worse than DRINK COFFEE!!! It was aren't you thirsty? (turning the heater up) Isn't it hot in here? (passing out pretzels) Would you just love a refreshing drink of coffee? In fact here have a coffee flavored shake.

We have gouged out all the meat thinking we are trimming the "fat" until we're left with a slick easy to understand, easy to do conversion where we can save fifteen kids in as many minutes. We have completely forgot the would disciple or mentor or relationship. As long as we get results and get them quick we're happy (and smug).

Sorry, I think I just ranted.


8:50 AM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Very moving, Tones & Owen. I encourage everyone to read Langston Hughes brief autobiographical essay "Saved." It can be found at

Here is a taste:

'Finally all the young people had gone to the altar and were saved, but one boy and me. He was a rounder's son named Westley. Westley and I were surrounded by sisters and deacons praying. It was very hot in the church, and getting late now. Finally Westley said to me in a whisper: "God damn! I'm tired o' sitting here. Let's get up and be saved." So he got up and was saved.'

10:41 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Tones, you are welcome to rant anytime on my blog. Even if you disagree with what I've said.

I, too, am bothered by this report. This is one of the great fears of many in our denomination in adopting the ways of Evangelicalism. I know not all Evangelical churches have followed this path to this extreme, but I think we need to rethink. And in rethinking we ought not to just leave behind what we held for something that could be worse. I, for one, think that we had much in hand that was good. We just turned it into something that was no better than (just not as brief as) what the Evangelicals arrived at. We "dropped" people once we baptized them instead of when they said a prayer. True, we need to learn some positive things from Evangelicals as well.

Please don't think by what I said that I discount Evangelicals as followers of Jesus. That would be completely mistaken.

One thing... if you say it's worse than "DRINK COFFEE!!!" I know it had to be bad. I know how much you dislike coffee!!!

Grace and peace!

11:40 PM  

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