This is where I grew up. The bible belt - many of you know it well. It is a curious place to grow up - mostly flat, drowning in steeples, shopping malls, and people who rarely tell you what they really think.
Parts of of it are good - there are pockets of real, authentic community and there are people who always surprise you. Plus, on the upside, people never squawk at you when you pray over your meal in a restaurant.
The hardest thing about living in Jesusland is that everyone is a christian, but not very many people trust Christ with their lives. Christianity is the cultural norm, which has led to dilution and confusion over what it really means to be a Christian; church attendance and morality are oftentimes confused with salvation and sanctification.
This is a land where checklists are preferred over heart change and behavior modification is valued over sanctification. As Derek Webb says,
Southern christian culture has presented a neat and tidy way to live: follow these rules, vote for these people, attend this church, and you are good.
The result is a land with some of the most desperate brokenness I have ever seen.
Some time ago, I worked in a church coffeehouse. Please understand, coffeehouses in churches go against the very fiber of my being - I hate the idea of the church-goers huddling inside their comfortable church walls and not going outward towards their community. But, alas, a gig is a gig.
Through my time working in the church coffeehouse, I became more frustrated and disillusioned with the church than ever before in my life. Week after week these “christians” barked their orders at me, picked up the wrong drinks and acted like it was our fault, and yelled at us for not being fast enough; it was enough to make me doubt the validity of the faith altogether. I literally had one woman come up to me, complain about her drink, and when I offered to remake it for her, look me straight in the eye and throw the drink dramatically into the trash and walk out the door. There was not a whole lot of sanctification and redemption working itself out here, folks.
After Sunday services, I would get in my car, call my husband, and cry and curse until I felt better, only to know I had to repeat the entire experience again the next weekend. To this day, when I drive by that church, I thank God for delivering me from that situation.
But through that experience, I realized something really important about these people and these churches. Just because someone is in church, sings the songs, and takes sermon notes, does not mean that they are not broken. Broken people are everywhere, especially in churches. Expecting everyone in church to be a true Christ-follower is like expecting everyone who waters their lawn to be a botanist or everyone in a bar to be an alcoholic or everyone who holds a gym membership to be a bodybuilder: totally ludicrous. Location cannot change the state of a person’s heart - only God can do that.
This revelation helps me have grace as I try to navigate the Jesuslands.