Why I’m Not Leaving the Church

I’m sure you’ve seen them in your news feed, the articles from a variety of sources with names like “Why Millenials are Leaving the Church” or “New Survey Reveals Shocking Drop in Church Attendance Among Young Adults”. Maybe you’ve seen the more personal versions, the blogs entitled “Why I Stopped Going to Church” or “How I Found Myself” (the latter usually by letting go of all that closed mindedness). Maybe you’ve even read the book unChristian, a detailed analysis of Barna research on attitudes towards Christianity. We probably all know someone who went to church growing up and doesn’t anymore. It may not bother you in the slightest. It may bother you intensely. I once spent almost an entire summer listening to sermons on “how all the youth of this generation are falling away”. Clearly it’s on some people’s minds a lot.

These sources often talk a good deal about the consumer mentality of youth groups. Our generation was so often branded. Think about WWJD bracelets and True Love Waits rings and CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and even things like AWANA (with the vests and crowns and the AWANA bucks). They also talk about the emotional manipulation: the stirring music, the altar calls, the re-commitments, the promises. They talk about the entertainment culture in the stupid youth group games and church camp traditions. Churches wanted us so badly that they lost the gospel in the games and the drama.

I went to church camp. I owned WWJD bracelets. I did AWANA and went to youth group. I listened to “upbeat and family friendly” radio stations. I’m still here. I’m staying.

Because here’s the truth. I can’t live without Jesus. And while I can have a good relationship with Jesus on my own, it won’t be nearly as fulfilling as it will be with a church encouraging me and myself encouraging a church.

Now, some people will make the argument that there’s nothing wrong with stopping church attendance if you have other Christian friends to spend time with. To be honest, there’s a lot about the church that can be frustrating. I cringe a lot during worship when a flighty or pop-rewrite is played. I wring my hands when a pastor doesn’t look at that Bible passage in context. But just hanging out with Christian friends won’t solve the problem.  What attending a church does is make seeking God in relationships intentional and structured. Sunday school focuses on learning more about the Bible. The service has a time of singing praises, a time for focused prayer, a time to listen to a challenge or an encouragement from the scripture. The group attending is often a lot more diverse than one’s group of friends, if not by culture, than by age and personality.

The truth is, I need church desperately.

I realized today that Caleb and I have been attending the same church for six months as of yesterday Looking back, I can see the effect it has had on our life. For the first three months, we only went to church on Sunday. It was often what made my life bearable. I loved being married and being out of school, but as many of my blogs attest, I felt lonely and lost, purposeless. But on Sunday for two and a half hours, I felt alive. I got to know people and pray for them. I wrestled with other believers on sticky topics. I was able to care for others hurt by the many changes going on in the church and be cared for in my life transitions and dropping work hours. I was encouraged by the prayers and sermons. And then we were able to get involved. I got to use my love of the spoken word to help those in the service appreciate the Bible even more. Caleb was invited to help consult on the church website. For most of the week, customers treated my service with almost no value. On Sunday our service meant something.

In December, we started meeting with a small group once a week. In January, I added a women’s Bible study. I cannot express how much these things have meant. The people in our small group are not necessarily people we would have picked to be friends with. They come from very different backgrounds and ways of thinking, but we are so happy to be part of this community. We’re the youngest people attending by five years, and most everyone is ten years older. That doesn’t matter. We’re the only couple without kids. That doesn’t matter. We meet and read the Bible and spur each other on with questions and pray for one another. The women’s Bible study is helping me find Mulan (there was a brief discussion of The A-Team and Knight Rider a few weeks ago). The weather shut down both events one week. The depression that hit me was palpable.

I’m not leaving the Church or the church. I need Jesus and I need to be with his people, as frustrating as they can be. I need to encourage and be encouraged. And I know I’m not the only one. I have a pile of friends in the “emerging adulthood” stage who refuse to let go of church. We’re still here. We need Jesus, and the intentionality, structure, and diversity of church. So the next time you see that article or that blog or that book, remember us.

Advertisements

Soundtrack Therapy

When I was seven or eight years old, my parents’ best friends were getting ready to move from Arizona to California. They searched through their house and pulled out the things they thought the could get rid of. Their preferred method was a garage sale. In the rush of everything, they ended up selling their record player, which would have been fine but for the box of records left unsold. They brought it to our house for us to pick over. I remember sitting on my knees, sifting through the hit eighties records and contemporary christian music of the day. Most of it looked cheesy and strange. And then I came upon an album with red flared along the back. A man dipped a woman in a passionate embrace. Little girl that I was, I made a face, replaced the album, and turned the box around.

I started again from the other side. I could hear my parents talking with their friends, but the album art was more interesting. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but I knew I had to look. And then I saw a black cover with stars. I pulled it out to get a better look and saw the partly shadowed mask of Darth Vader set in space. The Empire Strikes Back was written in white in the corner. I pulled out the album, heart pounding. I’d been obsessed with Star Wars for a few years, even though I’d never actually seen the movies. Our backyard was Ewok village and my bike was a speeder-bike. I flipped over the album and almost blushed. There on the back was the man and woman in romantic embrace in the midst of a red splash. I wanted to hide the picture. I didn’t want to let anyone know I’d rejected this treasure the first time through.

That record was mine. It was a first release vinyl of the film soundtrack, so old that the liner notes said the film was the fifth in a nine part story arc. I read through the analysis of each track. “Battle in the Snow” has a “swashbuckling climax” as Luke Skywalker takes down the AT-AT. I remember holding the records delicately, tracing the dust catcher over the rings of sound. I remember carefully turning on the machine, waiting for it to recalibrate, and placing the needle in the correct groove. I remember flopping out the lazy-boy chair and staring at the ceiling, listening to the smooth horns and sweet strings. I remember laying there for hours, imagining the movie described and letting the music flood over me.

This was a very chaotic time of my life. I don’t remember most of it. The snippets I do remember are usually linked to trauma. I remember crying in the cool, shaded, outdoor hallway of my Elementary School during recess because of what had been said to me. I remember finding nooks to hide and imagine in. I remember being held back while petty playground princesses spat insults into my face. I remember how they got away with it. My sister says I had terrible anger and behavioral issues. I don’t remember that. I do remember the years passing and the days feeling emptier. I remember that when I couldn’t handle it I would smack my head with the shampoo bottle. It was heavy enough to impact but soft enough to give. I remember biting my knuckles to keep from crying.

But I also remember lying in the lazy-boy, staring at the high, white ceiling, letting “Yoda’s Theme” wash over me, pulling away the pain and the fear and the loss until the only thing left was peace. I remember it making me want to cry. It still does.

I placed this track in our pre-wedding playlist. I thought it would encapsulate the peace I wanted for our marriage. We put the playlist on a CD, and I’ve started listening to it in the car on the way to work. I enjoy most of the music, but when that piece washes over me, I become acutely aware of all the pain in my life. Roger: the transition to adulthood is still rough. I’m in a February time of life and it kind of sucks. I can make it through most days just fine, but the mornings and evenings can be especially hard. Who am I? What does my life amount to? Why is being a grown-up so gosh-darn exhausting? But then I listen to my soundtrack and I find myself grounded again. I remember what it was like to discover Star Wars. I remember the hours piecing together the story, re-creating my own version. I remember that the writing is worth it, and someday this will make a smidgen of sense. I remember that version of me that saw a box of albums with stories and art trapped in spirals and couldn’t wait to be given permission to explore.

She’s still in here somewhere, riding a speeder-bike with Jaina and Jacen Solo through Ewok Village.

A Drive-Thru Crash Course

It’s February. The month decided to announce its arrival last Saturday with cold, heavy rain. (It has since continued its fickle existence by giving us another large snowfall, but that’s a different story). I discovered the weather at 10:30 am when I was sent out to flip the menu board in the drive-thru at work. My thin uniform did nothing to stop the thick drops from chilling my to the bone. I should have taken the hint. Since the weather was warm enough to drive safely but gross enough to encourage limited exposure, we had the busiest day in the drive-thru that we’ve had for a long time. I was assigned to be on headset, which I’ve learned how to handle. Still, the work was exhausting. Every time I work drive-thru on an exceptionally busy day, I find myself frustrated with the customers. Some are kind, but many are rude, annoying, and disrespectful of the workers and the cars behind them. I have to remind myself that most of our customers don’t even realize what they’re doing. If you’ve never worked in a drive-thru, it’s a little difficult to know what you’re communicating. This is why I have decided to write A Guide to Using a Drive-Thru. I hope it’s helpful and accurate.

 

When one pulls into a parking lot with the intent of going through the drive-thru, the first thing one must ask is, “Do I really need to go through the drive-thru? Or would it be faster to park and go inside?” A surprising fact: It’s often a lot faster to park and come into the store than to go through our drive-thru. This might seem a little illogical. The whole point of a drive-thru, after all, is to save time by not having to come into the store. If you could just pull up and get your food and drive away, all of that nasty parking, walking into the store, and waiting in line would be eliminated. Unfortunately, you still have to order and we still have to prepare your food. Inside our restaurant, there are screens for the person/persons bagging drive-thru and front-counter. The orders are color coded for how long they’ve been waiting. Green is up to 2 minutes, Yellow is 2-5 minutes, Red is anything after. The drive-thru screen is much more likely to get into the red than the front-counter. There are several reasons for this, but the biggest one is that if the car in front of you has to wait for some reason, you have to wait for them, and the car behind you, and the car behind that, and the car ordering will have to wait once it’s done. There is only one window where food gets handed out. Nothing else works architecturally. Some stores have two windows, one for the food to be paid for, the other to get food handed out, but this is a stall tactic so the customer feels like things are going more quickly than they actually are. My point is that if one pulls into a parking lot and sees three cars in the drive-thru, it might be faster to park and come inside. One can’t know if one of those cars will hold up the line for some reason. If you can only see one or two cars, by all means, stay in your car.

If there aren’t many cars, one should ask this question: “Would it be faster for the cars behind me if I go inside?” In answering this question, the first thing to take into account is what time of day it is. If one is coming into a drive-thru between 11 am and 2 pm or 5 pm and 7 pm, this is a particularly important question. Those times are meal rushes. It is very likely that a car will pull behind you while your ordering, and if you’re in the middle of a rush, it’s also likely that two or three cars will be behind you. The second thing to account for is how much food one will be ordering. One meal? Perfect. Two Meals? Great. Three? Sure. Four? We can do that. Five? Okay. Six? Really? Seven? Are you serious? Eight? You’re just being mean. Nine? There are twenty cars behind you now and they will all blame me for how long this is taking. Are there two separate orders? I can totally do that. Are there three? Um, sure? Four? Go inside. Right now. Remember when I talked about the line issue of the drive-thru? If you order more than four meals or two orders, you will be holding up the line, I guarantee you. That office worker who has fifteen minutes to pick up food will spend it waiting for you to fill your order. How is that kind or considerate? Please, if you have a large order, come inside and we can stack all of those bags in a nice large shopping bag. Heck, we will probably take that food out to your car for you. But don’t inconvenience the car behind you.

Next thing to take into account with regards to the car behind you is if one has any idea of the restaurant’s menu. If one has never been to this restaurant before, the drive-thru at lunch rush might not be the best time to spend five minutes looking over the menu. The cars behind you will think it is my fault. Trust me on that. Park. Come inside. Stand against the wall and look at our choices. No one will get frustrated at you for you taking your time. Now, if one has a cursory knowledge of the menu but doesn’t know what one wants, there is nothing wrong with taking a minute to look over the menu. But a minute is kind of a long time. Respect the car behind you!

If one is still bent on using the drive-thru, the next thing one has to take into consideration is communicating with the voice next to the menu board. First, that is not just a disembodied voice or a computer program. That is a person. Sometimes that voice sounds like a grumble, but it still comes from a human being. Please speak to us as though we are one. We will probably give you a greeting of some sort (“Good morning”, “Welcome to”, “Thank you for choosing”). Please give us one in return (“Hi” “Hello”). If the person taking your order gives a name, use it. It makes my day when someone responds to my greeting with, “Hello, Lydia.”  Remember, you are not orally punching information into a database. Rather, we are having a conversation. So when one goes to order one’s food, one should be careful of how one asks. “I need…” is not appropriate. Let’s be real here. No one needs fast-food. “I want…” is kind of demanding. Toddlers use this all the time. We applaud them because they’re communicating, but it wears on the ear quickly. Please don’t be a toddler. Ask politely. “I would like…”, “Could I please have…”, “May I please have…” are all wonderful and appropriate.

A note on voice clarity. Sometimes it’s hard to understand us with the crackly speaker. I’m sorry. I must say that it’s hard for us to hear customers also. If you’re muffler is busted, please turn off your car so we can hear you. Please be patient with us if we are having trouble understanding you. I still have difficulty with thick rural drawl and inner-city speak (Where we live I get both). Also, we may ask you to repeat something. Please don’t get frustrated. Let me tell you what it means to be on headset.

The person on headset is not just listening to you and punching buttons on a screen. They’re the ones making your drinks and all the desserts. If you’re coming through at 2pm, there’s a good chance there are three milkshakes on my screen. In order to make them, I have to multi-task. Sometimes I can do this easily. If I’ve had a long day, my retention ability beings to slip. But someone inside our store ordered that milkshake and would like it pretty quickly. Some times someone else can make it, but often it’s up to me. The person on headset is also probably not in a special room (our store has one, but we can’t sustain enough employees for separate people to do drinks and headset). We’re listening to you, but we can also hear the car at the window, the cashier at the window, the conversation between the baggers and the kitchen, and the front-counter cashiers. Some days it gets kind of loud where I am. I want to hear my customers, but quiet voices don’t carry when I’m hearing fifteen conversations at once. So if I have to ask you to repeat yourself, I’m probably having trouble multi-tasking or hearing you over the noise around me. Please be patient and repeat yourself as articulately as you can.

A note on special orders. Special orders take time. If you order a salad with no cheese, we have to make that specially for you. Where I work, all the salad bases are made fresh every morning, and they sit waiting for someone to order what kind of chicken they want on it. They’re made with cheese on them. If you order one without cheese, you will be waiting for it. If you order a plain sandwich, it will take a while. We stock up on regular sandwiches, but plain ones will have to be made specially. If a lot of people order specials all at once, the kitchen might be stopped up. Please keep in mind the line behind you and that you will probably be waiting for longer.

A note on drinks. The moment a customer orders a drink, I start making it. So when the drink size is changed at the end of the order, I have to dump out that cup and throw it away. Please indicate a special size upfront. Also, please don’t say, “I’ll just have a coke.” Fun fact: Coke is the one of the fizziest sodas in existence. I have to wait for the fizz to die down in order to make sure the cup is full and also doesn’t overflow through the straw-hole. It takes twice as long to make as a diet coke. Actually, in general avoid the word “just”. Unless you are ordering one food item, “just” usually implies a standard of normality that probably isn’t there.

When one is finished ordering, the person on headset will probably read your order back to you. We do this to catch mistakes. If we’ve made one, graciously correct us. Please do not yell or snap. We would rather be corrected at the speaker than at the window so the bags are made up correctly. We may also ask you for condiments. I have little buttons for ketchup and salt and mayo. When I push them, the bagger can see them and make sure those are in your bag when you pull up at the window. So please, if we ask, tell us everything you want then. The person at the window doesn’t want to spend extra time pulling together all your condiments. You’d probably like your food sooner rather than later anyway. Also, please wait until the person at the speaker has finished talking. Then thank us for our work. Then you can pull on. I can’t tell you how disrespected I feel when a customer pulls away while I’m still talking. I’m not an automated system. I am a human being.

While one is waiting to arrive at the window would be the best time for one to pull out one’s money. If there is no wait, pulling it out at the window is fine, but remember the cars waiting for you. When you get to the window, feel free to chat with the cashier. They’ll be fussing with your card or your money, but we’ve learned how to be personable and handle a transaction. Again, the more you treat us like human beings, the better we’ll feel and the better we’ll be able to do our jobs. A caveat: Please don’t change your order at the window if you can help it. Hopefully we’ll already be putting together the order you gave at the speaker, and if we have to undo what we’ve already done, it’s really frustrating.

A note on cell-phones: Please don’t use them in the drive-thru at all. When customers are talking on their phones and to the speaker at the same time, the headset worker can’t tell the difference. It’s like talking on two phones at once. When customers are talking on their phones at the window, they aren’t really listening to their total. They’re assuming the purpose of the window is to dispense food, not complete a transaction. Please, turn off the phone.

If one must wait at the window, please wait patiently. We want to give you your food. Sometimes the kitchen gets behind and we have to wait for normal orders. The cashier can’t do anything about this. If we have to pull you forward because we’ve run out of strips, please pull through and wait patiently. If one’s food and drink are ready at the window, please thank the cashier before driving off. We are serving you, but we’re not slaves. We would like some thanks for our jobs.

 

I hope I didn’t stamp on anyone’s toes with this blog. It’s tricky to write about food service without coming off as demanding, whether of worker or of customer. It’s easy to assume that either party is being lazy or rude when things don’t work out ideally. Still, in consumerist America, as I have written before, fast food workers are on the lowest end of the job spectrum. Think how many jokes are made that end with line, “Well at least I’m not working at McDonald’s”. But people do work at McDonald’s because other people like eating at McDonald’s. Food service shouldn’t be food slavery. So we, as customers, should be educated on how to best appreciate those who give us our food. Instead of biting their hands, that is.