Saturday, September 10, 2005

Cheeseburgers are paradise...

Cheeseburgers are paradise…

In search of churches and cheeseburgers (

I like cheeseburgers. My best friend would tell you that I love cheeseburgers.  It is hard to contest that since in three days I’ve had at least two. I am particularly fond of bacon cheeseburgers. You know the ones, a quarter to a third of a pound or rare hamburger covered with a generous serving of thick sliced, peppery bacon and on top of that a huge chunk of melting, cheddar cheese (if you are not vegetarian, you may be getting hungry right now, if you are, sorry!)  

Now I don’t like fast food cheeseburgers, delivered, cooked and made in bulk. I like the ones you find at out of the way places. The kind of places you would walk buy were you not in search of the perfect bacon cheeseburger. My current favorite local place is O’Malley’s Pub in downtown Waynesville. I usually sit in the third booth across from the bar so I can listen to the loud banter of bar patrons and watch whatever soccer or football game in on the television above the counter.

A cheeseburger is an experience, not just a meal. The whole package contributes to the enjoyment. The noise and laughter at the bar, the clean white plate, the ice cold drink and, of course, the cheeseburger all combine to add to the pleasure. Now it might be just as good wrapped in aluminum foil and eaten in the car, but I doubt it.

My love for the perfect cheeseburger served the perfect way, in the perfect place mirrors my search for Christian community. For eight months my son, Jordan, and I (also a cheeseburger professional, as a matter of fact his are some of the best…ask for the recipe!) have been searching for a place to worship and serve. We’ve been to the equivalent of the drive through cheeseburger place, pre-packaged and formula driven. We’ve been to the gourmet place, that really doesn’t “do cheeseburgers.” We have even been to some churches that claim they got, “just what you need” but they don’t really. Something is missing.

Sometimes it’s the meat. I mean the place is good, it looks nice, the presentation is there, but when it comes down to sinking your teeth into something solid, the worship service’s theology leaves something to be desired. Sometimes it’s the bacon, overdone or underdone. Somehow the music just does not come across as heartfelt. Jordan put it this way, “they sing like they kind of like Jesus.” If I order a bacon cheeseburger, I want a BACON cheeseburger. Give me slabs of thick sliced, pepper seasoned bacon like mom used to fry up on Saturday morning. I don’t want bacon bits! Sometimes the cheese is missing or such a thin veneer that it is like it is not even there. The display of warmth by the people who are happy to be there is missing. There is one church we have attended more than half a dozen times and on several occasions no one, not even an usher, has spoken to us. Thus far the pastor has not even acknowledged our existence despite the fact that I’m a denominational official in his denomination. Phone calls have gone unreturned and we have been pretty effectively ignored. Lastly, sometimes the presentation does not work. You walk in and you can feel the tension. Almost hear the gasp if something is missed in the bulletin or a word is misspoken. There are no rolls of laughter and displays of joy. We were leaving one place last week and we watched the folks coming from where we had just been and the ones in a neighboring congregation of a different theological bent. The facial expression contrast was rather remarkable. Our people looked solemn while the others looked, well, joyous, kind of like the people leaving O’Malley’s on a Friday night after a burger and a pint.

So I have found a great cheeseburger, the church, on the other hand, not yet. Though, like my search for the cheeseburger I won’t quit. One last thing, I’m really not looking for perfection (at least not in the church). I have just been looking for community…you know “where everybody knows your name” or is at least willing to learn it and talk to you. I have served churches that were missing the bacon or the cheese. I understand the constant struggles inside an institution that is to human to succeed and too divine to fail. What Clara (old Wendy’s commercial lady) and I really want to know is, “where’s the beef?” Thankfully in my search I remain:

Lost in Grace,

Marty

“Where’s the Beef” commercial:
http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2423864?htv=12
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