Friday, April 30, 2010

Latte Great Planet Earth


Who would have guessed that seven years of seminary and thirty years of pastoral ministry could be rendered totally futile in a matter of moments? Certainly not me. Yet it took only one five minute conversation with a post modern barista to convince me that all my years as a professional Christian communicator is not worth diddly in this new era. My apologetics mentors of the 1970s clearly did not prepare me for doing evangelism in the 21st century.

My wife and I recently arrived by train in downtown Portland on a Friday night for a four day, schedule free, wherever-our-whimsy-leads-us walking tour of the city. On Saturday morning we discovered a local bakery/coffee shop and I was delighted to see the barista--shaved head, soul patch and gemstones the size of walnuts in his earlobes--wearing a "Beam Me Up, Jesus" tee shirt. I thought to myself, "Nice to see a young person not ashamed of Christ."

Always eager to bridge the generation gap, I felt a guy in his fifties could easily engage this twenty-something. Everything went great, until I opened my mouth.

"Hey, we're new in town and want to attend church tomorrow. Got any recommendations?"

He stared at me blankly.

FUMBLE #1: Believing tee-shirt slogans are endorsed by their wearers.

"Your tee shirt," I said. "It mentions Jesus and I figured you go to church somewhere around here."

"No, dude," he said. "I got this shirt at the McMinnville UFO festival."

Now it was my turn to stare blankly. I said, "UFO festival?"

"Yeah, years ago there was a famous UFO sighting in McMinnville, Oregon and every year we gather to hear speakers and celebrate mutants. Both Marilyn Monroe and Darth Vader have made appearances. Check this out."

He turned around and showed me the back of his tee-shirt with words from 1 Thessalonians 4:17, "We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."

He looked at me brightly and said, “I believe in the Immaculate Abduction!”

FUMBLE #2: Assuming Bible verses mean the same to everyone.

I am an evangelical with a black belt in proof-texting, but I never met anyone who used Paul to prove the existence of UFOs. Call me naïve, but wearing sacred texts as irony, or absurdity, or both, simply is not on my radar.

Shaken but undeterred, I pressed on. "Well, if you were to recommend a church for us, where would you send us?"

He said, "Do you want a progressive church?"

"Yes!" I said with enthusiasm, grateful that one of his friends was probably affiliated with some hip, emergent, storefront church. "Where do they meet?"

"There's a group up on 10th avenue that studies the mysteries of the Mayan Calendar."

I blurted without thinking, "That's progressive?! The Mayan calendar is 3000 years old!"

FUMBLE #3: Thinking rationality trumps irrationality.

Being thoroughly modern, I try to juggle faith with healthy scientific skepticism. Being confronted with such bold, post modern proclamations of unscientific isms was unnerving. The ground beneath me shifted. How does a mystical Christian believer like me connect with a mystical nonbeliever like him? Where is the common ground for discussing eschatology and theories of the rapture in a coffee line?

He asked where I was from and when I told him Bellingham, Washington he said, "Hey, my band played there once." Desperate to build some kind of rapport with this guy, his mention of music gave me hope. I am a guitar picker from way back always ready to leverage mentions of Hendrix, Clapton, and Garcia into opportunity for conversation.

I asked "What instrument do you play?" hoping like crazy he would say guitar.

"I play the didgeridoo," he said.

More blank stares from this aging rocker.

"The didgeridoo," he patiently explained to the clueless unhipster, "is a long wooden drone pipe played by native Aborigines in Australia."

FUMBLE #4: Imagining millennials are as interested in the 60s as I am.

My brain is loaded with thousands of arcane factoids not one of which helped me relate to a didgeridoo blowing, Mayan calendar affirming, UFO studying barista. I may as well have been talking to an Aborigines.

A line had formed behind us so my wife and I paid for our coffee and pastries and left, I in a stupefied daze. I have rarely felt so disoriented, incompetent or ineffective.

To add insult to injury and further my existential sense of irrelevance, later that day my wife and I stumbled onto a sandwich place called, Wrapture, the subtext being, "Spiritual or emotional ecstasy, joy or delight, experiencing great food.” I thought to myself, "Is this city mocking me, or what?!"

On Sunday we actually did stumble onto a hip, emergent, storefront church not far from the bakery. I made it a point to tell the leaders about the barista with the “Beam Me Up, Jesus” tee shirt. Surely they could relate to him better than I.

Monday was our last day in the city and we returned to the bakery to tell the barista about the evangelical church around the corner. Sadly, the barista was not there. In his place was a twenty-something woman and when I saw the message on her tee-shirt I was stunned.

Fumble #5: Expecting post moderns to categorize life like I do.

This new era blurs things previous generations kept distinct. The line between sacred and secular is muddled. What I so effortlessly compartmentalize—us/them, truth/error, in/out—is foreign to post moderns. Our walking tour of Portland taught me communicating the gospel in today’s world requires new strategies, new ways of thinking, new creativity. It is our job to learn to speak the language of our contemporaries since it is clear that they do not understand the language of evangelicalism.

The message on her tee shirt? “Prepare to meet thy baker.”

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