"I think I want something good - like a steak and mashed potatoes. Not just any mashed potatoes, but like those ones with garlic and cheese. I'm thinking we should go somewhere that has, like, good appetizers and a nice atmosphere."
These were the words of a close friend this past Sunday when he joined our family in the car to head off for lunch. As he described the elegance of a nice restaurant, my oldest daughter thumped her index finger against her window and peered out at a fast-food/gas station combo and enthusiastically declared, "Me too, cause you just described McDonald's!"
While she might have been off, I began to consider the ever-entrancing cultural phenomenon that is symbolized by the heavenly golden arches we all know so well. Much like the church, the establishment has installations all over the world and in almost every city. Also, like the church, McDonald's is the punchline for many a pejorative joke. It is laughable. It is said that if you are with a group that cannot decide where to go for lunch you should just recommend McDonald's. People will be so disgusted that they will instantly arrive at a more palatable option. Most people are ashamed to admit that they are just back from Micky D's. Indeed the similarities are striking.
WE WERE RAISED THERE
For most westerners this was not the case when we were children. We happily proclaimed our devotion to Ronald and Co. as we yearned for meals that not only made us, but were themselves, happy. The same is true with our situation with organized religion. As kids, we couldn't wait for VBS, youth trips, kids camp, Sunday school and buckets and buckets of goldfish. Proverbs 22:6 comes to mind. What happened? There was no shame. We were completely sold.
WE HAD A BAD EXPERIENCE
As with church, it is not uncommon to hear detractors say that they don't like McDonald's because they had a bad experience. Fair enough. However, with the inundation of McDonald's locations we are all likely to have had enough experiences that we should expect there to have been some bad ones.
Yesterday, my wife was at our local homeschool co-op and asked me to bring her some lunch . . . from McDonald's. I had a bad experience. No . . . I had a less than perfect experience. I ordered my food at 11:52am and they completed my order at 12:07pm. Technically, I ordered in the morning and got my food in the afternoon. It took them 15 minutes at a very busy time of day. The soccer mom to my left indignantly demanded, "You should ask for a refund. They'll totally give it to you. This is ridiculous!" Another matter-of-fact woman in fighting stance declared, "They're making us wait so they don't have to pay more employees. It's all about the fat cats upstairs. They make money off our hardship." Seriously? On the other hand, it wasn't the fault of these employees that they were understaffed. Besides, when there are people who don't have food at all in the world, and gladly wait hours to fill up glasses of dirty water at wells, I don't think a 15 min wait for several thousand calories is a big deal. I had a less than perfect experience. So what?
In the same way westerners have been so exposed to McDonald's that we end up having less than perfect (or occasionally bad) experiences, westerners have been so exposed to church that we have less than perfect (or occasionally bad) experiences. The sermon was 15 min too long. The music wasn't just right. The coffee was weird. someone looked at me funny. no one shook my hand before church. Someone came over and shook my hand before church. No one talked to me. Too many people talked to me. They didn't try to get me involved. They tried to get me involved. These are all dumb things people say to describe less than perfect experiences at church. While we complain because the guitarist wasn't studio quality or the music wasn't traditional enough, people in third world countries will gladly wait hours to fill their cups by hearing the gospel from a simple missionary with a tambourine and a bad translator. Come on.
WE CAN'T STAND THAT PLACE
I recently saw a video in which people who had never before had McDonald's tasted it for the first time. I was greatly annoyed. All these upper-crusters were acting so disgusted. Really? It's that bad? I guess that's why they exist on every corner. Now it probably is the case that some of them were genuinely turned off by the flavor, but for most of these folks, I'm not buyin' it. They've heard, like we all have, that McDonald's is the last place you wanna go.
The same is true of church. "I can't stand organized religion. Worship is weird. What's up with all these people raising their hands and going to an altar?" It looks icky to them. It looks old fashioned. It looks backwooded. Fine, but let's get to the bottom of things. Mankind is clearly wired for worship . . . and . . . dare I say . . . religion. Some may not like the trappings of worship, but football enthusiasts are very religious about their passion. They get tribal. They paint their faces. They are willing to get genuinely angry. They rejoice with rapturous and raised fisted hands when their teams win. They have chants. They have special foods that they eat at communion . . . I mean game time. Hipsters have the same thing. Just watch them with their coffee and beer snobbery. Check them out at indie music concerts. We are all wired to have rituals and religious experiences. Don't tell me you don't "get" church. You "have" church with respect to something all the time.
We lost our faith
The elephant in the playroom is hard to miss. McDonald's is unhealthy right? We lost our faith in McDonald's the same week Jared became a celebrity at Subway. I get it. I won't defend McDonald's in this regard except to point out that they do list calorie count on everything now. Oh by the way, they do have salad. "But," you might declare, "they aren't organic enough!" Neither is the "organic" stuff you buy at most big-boxes. Nevertheless, there may be better options. This is not the case with church. McDonald's may be too cheesy, too corporate, too prevalent. The criticisms of the church are often the same. Yet, let's remember, these don't speak to the heart of the matter. McDonald's is still living up to their mission of giving you fast-food at a low price. The church is still living up to its mission of giving you the truth about the nature of reality. The only intellectually acceptable reason for leaving the church, as far as I'm concerned, is that you don't believe the message. In that case, you should believe the message, but the point I'm making is that one should not become a part of or leave a local church for the wrong reasons.
You might ask why I would make this comparison. If you are a Christian, you might think I am being disrespectful in some way by mentioning the bride of Christ and home of Ronald in the same article. Let me be clear - this is the very thing I find offensive. Many treat the value of the church no differently than they treat the dollar value menu at McDonald's. They give the same reasons for avoiding the church that they give for avoiding the golden arches. In this way, many in our culture have placed the most important, majestic and glorious earthly organization on par with a place that is known for fries and clowns.
I probably won't be back to McDonald's any time soon Why? I wasn't offended. I don't mind that they were late with my order. I won't lie and tell you that a number two value meal isn't one of the most pleasurable things that can happen to me at a fast-food restaurant. I have a hard time convincing others to go with me. That's fine. There isn't much on the line there. There is with church. Spread the word.
NOTE: for those trying to lose weight, the egg white delight mcmuffin is fabulous.