Thursday, April 23, 2009

Easter Redux

Day before Easter, I joined friends for coffee at a different location. Our favorite spot had caved to economic pressures. Of course, no new choice would suffice—but we had to find another place, or just stop getting together for coffee.

The preference was for a locally-owned business, so the locals chose the new venue, and I, the lone commuter to the affair, followed mapquest to my destination. The selection was a place I had heard of before, but somehow I had missed one detail: this tiny coffee shop was an add-on to a big-box-leftover now converted to something labeled “Casino.”

I pulled into the parking lot with misgivings. After all, hadn’t I spent countless hours researching records, policy, precedents, and academics’ expert opinions in opposition to the establishment of just that very type of place in my own town years ago? I didn’t think my opinion of having such a place in my town had changed, so why did having it in the next town make things any better?

But my friends were inside. I reluctantly parked the car, walked in the café door and got in line to order my mocha. While chatting with the woman behind the counter, I casually asked how she liked being a tenant in a commercial center that, other than her small shop, was all casino.

She was quick to correct me: “Oh, no! That’s not a casino; that’s a card room.”

Hmm. Same rhetoric we encountered when we fought the big-box “card room” slated to open in our town. And, funny, that’s not what the big, red sign across the front of the building said. I thought I read a sign saying “casino.”

“We love having them as neighbors. They keep everything clean. They have great security. They’re very nice.”

True, as I had pulled into the full parking lot that Saturday morning—wondering how many of the parked cars were just there to pick up coffee—there was a woman diligently sweeping the parking lot and sidewalks.

How very nice.

The little cash register in my mind went off at about that time. I got to thinking about business realities. The price for the mocha, soon paid, would go into the till, and in the cut and dried reality of the business world, would eventually be split into proportions to cover costs for ingredients and labor, profit for the owners, and—yes, eventually—let’s see…there would be overhead costs for items such as rent. So my coffee purchase, in its infinitesimally small way, would go to support the landowner who benefited, mostly, from the revenue generated by the gigantic—albeit nice—business concern next door.

It puzzled me, knowing that our group usually strove to support local businesses owned by Christians, to think that this coffee house was another such establishment. I suppose, in this world of multifaceted entities, it is near-impossible to keep from supporting causes diametrically opposed to one’s convictions. I didn’t know for sure the orientation of these business owners, but assumed from the history of our group that they would share that common heritage. Considering the long-term negative social impact of establishments like this “nice” one next door, I couldn’t help feeling bothered that no one in our group seemed disturbed that we were sitting in a café right next to a casino.

Did everyone but me miss that fact? How could they? Each one of us had to walk through a packed parking lot to be second or third in line at a tiny coffee place. Did this not bother anyone? Was I just really out of orbit thinking about this?

Funny, but this very theme had been resonating in my mind following another such little discovery. I had just renewed an online friendship with another homeschooling mom. I had always been impressed with her incisive observations, and—wanting to keep reading about these—had asked her if she blogged. She not only shared the blog’s location but sent along some YouTube links of her husband’s work.

This man—call him brave or call him crazy—is one of those people not intimidated over sharing his faith on street corners. With a bull horn. I’ve always been ambivalent about such people. I’m glad for their conviction and their willingness to care enough about other people to reach them wherever they may be found. On the other hand, I wonder how effective such an approach ultimately is.

Regardless of my thoughts on this, I opened some of those links to see him and his associates in action, speaking at Mardi Gras, Super Bowls, and other crowded venues. The first link I opened happened to be an encounter in front of an abortion center. The jist of the dialog turned out to be heckling between the speaker and an employee, evidently on break. The odd thing was that the employee, while in no uncertain terms telling the intruder to cease his tirade, insisted that she, too, was a Christian.

Wait. A Christian? Working in an abortion clinic? Is this yet another episode of “It’s just my job”?

The point of the clip was that the reason we still have such strongly-contested social harms is not the apathy of the general public, but hypocritical buy-in by people whose very faith would lead others to believe they were in opposition to the issue—like Christians who find no problem being employed by abortion clinics.

Christians linked to abortion clinics? Wait! I just read something else hinting of that same scenario. Granted, it was linked to a local story, a tragedy in fact. These are wonderful people. This is a great loss. That it would not be true would be a vicious thing for the one suggesting the connection. But if it were true, it would support my blogger friend’s contention.

Of course, anything on the internet has to be checked out these days! So, I did—went to Snopes, the veritable receptacle of the gospel truth (well, in a secular sense, of course). Disappointment: they were noncommittal. Not to be outdone, I went to another source and found follow-up documentation of at least one part of the puzzle. While one little piece of the story doesn't necessarily mean it might just be true, a member of what seems to be a Christian-oriented family may turn out to be a business partner in a large abortion concern.

Perhaps this possibility doesn’t bother anyone any more. But it bothers me. Yet, if my finger points to that, it needs to point to me, too. What may be a trivial four bucks tossed on a counter on a happy-go-lucky Saturday may link me to behavior no different than business operations that profit from practices that harm others.

So, my Saturday puzzling morphed into my Sunday Resurrection-Day celebration. My mind couldn’t help juxtaposing the example of One who was willing to lay down His preferences—not to mention His rights—for people such as us, people who pray nice prayers seeking God’s favor in all we do. We want things “nice”—that we may be healed from our everyday sicknesses, saved from financial problems, excused from difficulties. We constantly see God as our Provider—which is Biblical—but we want the provisions before we feel the pain of lack. We respect God as our Savior, but we plead for Him to save us before we feel the pressure of our need to be saved. We want God to provide the good, but we want Him to do it before we ever feel the misery of not having that good.

And so our prayers are for our nice life, our nice things, our nice wishes for our friends and family. Yet, the miracle-worker God is no Savior, Provider, or Healer to those who have no need. A nice life provides no compelling reason to need a God.

When we “go along to get along,” we pray only “nice” prayers. Those are the prayers that will never see desperate men decide they no longer need to gamble. Those are prayers that will never result in abortion clinics being seen for what they really are. Those are not even prayers that will open blind eyes or unstop deaf ears.

It is only when we are faced with the desperate, the agonizing, the impossible, that we truly see what God can do.

Nice prayers don’t have resurrection power.

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