Upon arriving in my new location, Maryland, three things struck me within the first week.
- The heat.
- The food
- The religion
It is so, so hot here. My English readers may hate me a little for that, but I promise you I’m not enjoying the heat. The weather widget on my computer tells me it’s going to reach a high of 35 Celsius. On top of that, it’s humid. It means I hide indoors where there is the cool, dry Air Conditioning. I dare say it’s necessary for productivity to be possible here.
Also, everybody eats out all the time. If you talk about lunch you’re talking about fast food. People think I’m a little odd for bringing in a lunchbox every day (or a can of soup). Same goes for coffee. The Americans know how to make coffee. Nobody would drink instant. Unlike in the UK, filter coffee is not a luxury but normal – as it should be, in my opinion! But, there is always a queue at Starbucks and people will buy coffee rather than making it themselves. I found that odd.
This sunday I really went for the American food culture. I had to get to Church for sometime before 8 AM to set up, so I stopped at McDonalds for breakfast and picked up a cup of coffee with my Bagel (I enjoy bagels and the Americans are big fans, too). Then when I got to Church I realised that the snack bar had been laid out with… Coffee and bagels! I went around the corner for something I could have gotten for nothing.
Speaking of fast food, there are outlets for it everywhere. It’s huge in this part of the country. People are too busy to cook and prepare food and so rely on a massive catering industry to hand them lunch. Drive down any main road and you will see gas stations with snacks, drive-thru’s, diners, coffee shops, bars and restaurants. That is one of the biggest differences I have so far encountered.
So, I drive down one of the main roads, seeing the gas stations and food places on either side, when out of nowhere I see a church. And another. And another. I drive for a couple of miles down this road and there are churches on either side of the road. I might have passed ten of the things! Each one looked roughly the same, each with a sign out the front with a catchy, encouraging statement and sermon advertisement. Each one was a different tradition – half of which I’d never even heard of.
I don’t think I’d ever seen so many churches in one place. The cynic in my grinned with sarcastic wit – noticing the fast food places nearby. Fast food places with their slogans, advertisements and signs outside. Remembered the convenience of Air Conditioning, I thought these churches with their many different ideas and theologies and programs could conveniently fit into anyones life.
You could go to any of these churches as find a different meal for your soul – whatever you felt like. If you didn’t get enough from one place, you could always go next door. Customise your religion! ‘Have it your way!’
The cynic in me is notoriously unfair and cruel, but at the same time I couldn’t ignore the silliness of all this religion. The pastor in me (That’s what I’m doing this year, a pastoral internship) felt empathy for all the Church leaders, each trying to be faithful in a culture which idolises the self and bends the world to serve the individual. Somehow, it seems Church has become this way too.
As I drove on from this place, I tried to put the cynicism to rest and remember that the ministers, priests and pastors who preach each sunday are trying to be just as faithful as me. Sometimes I think Christianity is made to look too convenient. Sometimes, just like I went to McDonalds, I know I become too settled in the order of the world and forget Christ’s call.
“Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (Peter, Acts 2:40)