Why You’ll Find Community at McDonald’s Instead of at Church

logoBeing a freelance writer, I get to choose where I work. If I’m hungry and haven’t had breakfast (and if I’m not going anywhere where the odor of french fries on my clothes might offend someone), I head to McDonald’s. Love me some yogurt parfait. And an occasional biscuit. Don’t judge.

In my vast knowledge of McDonald’s locations in the Nashville area, I have noticed a couple of things:

First, the McD’s inside Nashville are way more posh than the ones in the outlying areas, specifically the tiny hamlet of Kingston Springs. You won’t find any faux leather seats or flat screen TVs there. Just hard plastic booths.

Second, McD’s is a place to find community. Three groups of community, to be exact. At least in the Springs.

First, the senior men. They talk about men’s issues—the weather, politics, sports, local gossip. No emotional topics please. And no women, thank you. Another group  gathers on the opposite side of the restaurant—the hunter/redneck crowd. Which allows women, by the way. They’re almost always in cammo, always wear a ball cap, and talk about deer, fishing rods, and football. There’s always time to talk about football when you live in SEC territory.

The third group? The employees.

You might be thinking, sure, they take breaks together. Yes, that’s true, but the members of this circle come to hang out…even when they don’t work that day. These people will actually show up  just to be together—when they could be doing a dozen other things away from the smell of coffee grinds mixed with grease.

The group is a ragtag lot. Most are tattooed at least once. Some have body piercings. Most smoke. Their ages range from pimple-faced teens to senior adults who are working there because they need the income. Quite a conglomeration of cultures.

If you listen to their conversations (which I NEVER do), you might think you were in a normal office setting:

“How’s is your mom?”
“How was your doctor’s appointment?”
“My son is driving me nuts!”

Other times, though, you listen to their stories and realize WHY they are a community:

“My child support…”
“I can’t pay my rent until…”
“My partner and I…” (same-sex partner, that is)

They come to experience community. (They certainly don’t gather because they can’t get enough of the food.) They come because, in that space and place, they find acceptance. As is. They find the much-needed feeling of being understood. Of someone caring for them. Supporting them.  They gather because they’ve shared the same experience of being shunned in other places, even (especially?) the church.

Be honest: Would the gay cashier with his striped socks and funky shirts be welcome in your church—even when he starts talking about how to mix hair colors? What about the barely-adult woman who has had three children by three different men? What about the recovering addict who has to sneak out during worship for a cigarette?

What would you do if you found out if a visitor (or a member!) has a criminal record? Cheated on his wife? Had an abortion? Would you treat those people any differently? Would you invite them in to your community of faith?

Better yet, would you invite them eat with your family (or friends) after the worship service?

These people gather because they all have scars—and they all know it. There’s no need for pretense or pretending because everyone in that circle acknowledges that they’ve messed up and have no room to judge. They gather because they’ve found some sense of belonging in spite of poor decisions and sinful pasts.

In short, McDonald’s provides what the Church often does not—a place of flawed yet accepted humanity.

If Jesus were alive today, I’m pretty sure He’d stop by the Kingston Springs McD’s…

…and He might even eat a biscuit.

Dear [older] women: We [younger] women need you!

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Dear {older} women:

I speak for myself but my plea echoes the thoughts of others my {age}:

We need you.

My mom passed away eight years ago this week, and her absence has left a void that can never be filled. But her absence can be lessened by other women being willing to pour into my life. And I think my female contemporaries would say the same thing, even if they still have a relationship (close or not) with their own moms.

Why do we need you? Because we are unsure as moms ourselves. Just like you, we don’t have a manual for how to raise our children. You have what we lack—experience. Wisdom gained from the added years.

We need you because being a godly woman in an ungodly world is even harder than ever, and we’re not sure what that looks like. Culture is constantly in our face, telling us what we’re supposed look like, what corporate ladder we’re supposed to be climbing, what accolades to achieve, what fame to seek (even if it’s just on Facebook or Pinterest), what trendy pursuit to chase. And nobody else is speaking loud enough for us to hear anything else.

Please, speak up. Take us out for coffee. Let us ask you questions. Listen to our hearts, because they are burdened and confused and in need of your shaping, even though we’re no longer children. We are still eager to learn. It just takes a while for our walls to come down because we’ve spent a lot of time constructing them so that others won’t see the mess of our lives.

Please don’t think that we have it all together. We don’t. Please don’t assume that our overbooked schedules and frenzied appearance means we are confident, under control, or at peace. Often, our frenetic lifestyle just mirrors the unsettled state of our souls.

Please don’t check out on us. Don’t think you don’t have anything to offer, because you do. We need your encouragement. Your wisdom. Your advice. Your example. Your guidance. Your humor. Your perspective.

We are waiting for you to make the first move, because asking you upfront for help seems intrusive. Unspiritual. Awkward. Demanding. But if you’d just ask us out to lunch and open the door, we’d rush in and drink deeply from the well of intergenerational friendship —for we are parched.

Where are you, [older] women? We need you.

Why I am not crazy in love with being radical

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I have a confession to make. I’m not a huge fan of the book Radical.

Now before you stone me, brand me a heretic, or excommunicate me from the church, let me explain.

I live in a small town. Only two traffic signals. The local gas station also offers minnows and take-out pizza (which is good). And in my town is a really small church. No more than 50 people or so. They’ve recently been going through the study Radical, and one of its members recently commented to me, “I can’t go sell my home. Then you’d have one more homeless person in need of ministry.”

I know the comment was tongue-in-cheek, but it does highlight a major problem in the Christian community today: the exaltation of “celebrity” ministry.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve met the author of Radical, sat on a panel discussion with his wife. They’re great people. They would never put themselves on a pedestal as more important than others. But their popularity–fueled by the resonance of their message–has created the faulty idea that unless you sell your home, adopt orphans, or create a social enterprise, you’re not fulfilling the call of God to care for others.

We as a Christian community have focused so much on major movers and social shakers that we’ve forgotten that the church was founded by a bunch of uneducated fishermen who didn’t really know what they were doing. The history of Christianity has been propelled forward by millions of anonymous people who were just doing their small thing where they could, however they could. They saw needs and met them.

Take my mother-in-law, for example (she’s going to kill me when she reads this, so this may be my last post). She’s never been highlighted in a magazine, her story never told at a conference or on a Webcast. You wouldn’t recognize her in the airport.

Unless you’re one of the people she’s helped.

She volunteers at my daughter’s school and takes her octogenarian neighbor to the doctor. She fixes meals for underprivileged kids who need to eat on the weekend. She sings in the church choir and changes out the wreaths in the fellowship hall when the seasons change.

Yet, by the standards of our Christian culture, she’s not doing enough. She’s not radical enough, not crazy in love with Jesus enough. She doesn’t qualify for the top ten list of most influential Christians (yes, that list exists).

We’ve replaced anonymous, do-what-you-can-right-where-you-are servanthood with banners and headlines and awards and book deals, making people like my mother-in-law (and me and you) wondering if her small acts of service really matter.

If you’ve ever asked that question, the answer is a resounding yes.

Just ask the kid who will get to eat this weekend because of one anonymous woman.

To quote a not-so-anonymous woman, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” (Mother Teresa)

So go and love. Love deeply. Care for others right where you are, even though you’ll never make the front page. You are Jesus with skin on. And every small act of love matters.

You matter.