Throwdown at the Olive Garden

So I’m sitting at the local pastors luncheon for the first time. I’ve always considered these meetings sort of like the TV show “The View”…

Everybody’s griping, and most of the pastors look surprisingly like Joy Behar.

Suddenly I realize I’ve made a crucial error. I’m trapped here now. The waitress has already brought the bread sticks, and the bottomless salad is coming soon. No way to get out now without being rude.

In the words of Sartre, “No exit”.

These days I feel caught between the church people I love and the lost people I’m reaching out toward. I literally fit in nowhere.

Here’s the problem. I love my non-Christian friends. They’re on the whole pretty well-educated, and my sense of humor goes over well with them. I’m the “cool pastor”, the one who doesn’t send them a judgy face when they light up a smoke or take a drink, though I participate in neither.

I get their cultural references and jokes. I don’t scold when they curse. You get the idea. And yes, I know what you’re wondering…

No, I don’t do all those things just to fit in. I simply don’t believe Jesus would scold them either. They’re not believers – why should I expect them to act like Sunday School ladies?

And yeah, sometimes I worry about showing too much acceptance to them, worrying they may take my love as tacit approval for an ungodly lifestyle. It’s a tough balance, but I do my best. And I’ve actually led several of them to Christ and baptized them.

But when I see their hateful Facebook posts against Christians, it hurts. When they rail against pro-lifers and conservative people of faith, I’m reminded of that whole “stranger in a strange land” thing. I see their destructive, chaotic lives and remember I truly don’t fit in with them.

That’s reassuring, yet also strangely painful.

So I think, “Well, I guess I’ll just focus on my good Christian brothers and sisters with whom I’ll be spending eternity.”

That works out great…until I actually do it. Seems I really don’t always feel comfortable there either.

For example, take that local Pastor’s Luncheon I mentioned. It’s made up of predominantly Bible-believing conservative men from smaller churches in the area. Pastors of the big churches are either too busy or see these guys as small potatoes, so they seldom show up…

…or maybe they’ve shown up in the past and learned their lesson like I am today.

We start talking around the table about challenges in ministry. One church starter asks about holding services in a public school, so I speak up. My church met in a public school until just recently.

I relayed a story about when I preached on Islam in a sermon once. I gave an accurate and balanced assessment of how it conflicts with the Bible, yet encouraged our people to be loving toward Muslims. Well, it got back to the school, got twisted, and suddenly people were accusing me of “hate speech”.

In the middle of my story, the entrees came. Then about 30 minutes later, an older man who seemed to be scowling the entire meal spoke up with a slow self-righteous southern drawl.

“I’m sorry folks, but I won’t be able to sleep tonight if I don’t speak up.”

All eyes are on him as he then turns to face me and looks me in the eyes and uses a breadstick as a sort of wobbly pointing device:

“Bruther, I want you to know that those Muslims you love don’t believe Jesus is the Savior of the world, but only a prophet. They’ll try to lie and say they respect Him, but they don’t believe He’s God. And you’re being foolish if you think they’re your friends.”

As everyone’s lasagna hangs limp in their mouths, I scramble to re-explain what I’d clearly stated only 30 minutes ago. Somehow, any attempt at compassion toward Muslims was seen by this man as giving “comfort to the enemy”. While I talked, he gave me that squinty look you give someone when you think they’re telling you a lie.

The table went very quiet during all this, and everyone stared intently into their minestrone. After a brief pause, the conversation turned to the latest ballgame and Duck Dynasty episode.

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, I have now just deleted the pastors lunch from my monthly calendar.

That kind of ignorance is what ticks me off about some of my Christian friends. I get so tired of them looking for a fight where there is none. They use their faith as a weapon to beat the world and other Christians into submission.

I listen to some of them and wonder how in the world we could possibly share the same Jesus.

But then I hear my lost friends going off in the other direction, pretending that terrorists who clearly want to kill us just need a really good warm hug. Any suggestion there should be any restriction whatsoever on immigration is met with accusations of racism.

Evidently, there’s more than enough stupid to go around, regardless of your politics.

So here I sit alone now, typing in my favorite Starbucks. I’m accepted here as long as I keep quiet, but that’s enough for me right now. I don’t feel I truly fit in anywhere – not even with my crazy Christian friends whose minds seem just as closed to other ways of thinking as those hateful ladies on The View.

I’d be just as uncomfortable on Ms. Behar’s couch as I was in front of those Baptist breadsticks at the local Olive Garden.

So I guess I’ll just have to wait for heaven, where I can sit with Lewis, Tolkien, and Tozier and chat freely to my heart’s content. Hopefully, that crowd won’t get sick of my simple-minded questions and interruptions. I hope they won’t begrudge me when I don’t smoke a pipe or share a pint with them.

Oh Lord, would that meeting be for them the equivalent of a pastor’s lunch for me? What if, compared to their intellect, I’m the squinty-eyed rube from Olive Garden with a chip on his shoulder and more ignorance than brains in his head?

I guess I’ll just hang out with Jesus when I get to heaven. He’s probably the only one with grace enough to tolerate me and all of humanity’s collective stupidity, whether conservative or progressive.

I just hope there won’t be breadsticks. Those things can put an eye out!


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