You are a manager at Starbucks. One fine day one of your baristas comes to you because you have yet another customer with ruffled feathers you need to smooth out. It's annoying because even though you have no proof, this particular barista seems to come to you with disgruntled customers often. She is a bit of a know-it-all because she has been making lates and mochas for a number of years. However it's her attitude that has caused her to stay in the pay grade of a barista versus moving up in the chain of command.
You get to the counter and this customer is not upset. This is customer is irate. Apparently her order has been messed up twice this week and she is now late to work because she has to wait for her grande-tripple-skinny-white-vanilla-late to be remade. So what are you to do when your customer is yelling at you about the quality of your coffee, your staff, even the cleanliness of your bathrooms? Hopefully, you would do what any good manager would do and stand there politely listening until she is finished. Meanwhile, the barista who you are certain has caused this ruckus is going about her work without a seeming care in the world.
When the customer is done listing off every complaint she has about the Starbucks Corporation, it's your turn to quietly apologize, as I'm sure any of us would do in this situation. You might say, "I'm very sorry for the inconvenience. I completely understand where you are coming from. On behalf of everyone here, I am very sorry. It's true, sometimes we make mistakes but that is no excuse for how you have been treated." OR, on a bad day, you might say, "You know what, I don't know why you are yelling at me. I didn't make your drink, I didn't screw it up. Why don't you find the person responsible for making you angry and yell at her. This isn't my fault!"
Well, if you responded with the second response you probably wouldn't have to worry about seeing that lady again. However, she is the type to go to the next level and you could end up losing your job. Hmmmm.... You just never know.
So what's the point of this "hypothetical" scenario I've just concocted? Well, I'm wondering if, as a Christian, we do this as well. Christians have a very bad rep in today's society. We are known as rude, uncaring, boring, ritualistic, fake, hypocritical, judgmental, and a list of other not-so-nice names that I'm sure you can come up with on your own. This is not Christianity. At least, it's not true Christianity. And not all Christians are like this. Some actually care about other people. Some truly believe they can make a difference in this world for the Kingdom of Christ. Some Christians follow Jesus and learn to bite their tongue when a biting remark attempts to escape. Some Christians have learned to look beyond the outer shell of people and see that there is something lovable about everybody. Some Christians have exotic and exciting lives living in different countries, traveling to new places, meeting new people everywhere they go - even in the comfort of their own neighborhood in Idaho.
I think that sometimes, as Christians, we encounter people who want nothing to do with Christianity because these people have seen the hypocrisy that lived in the Pharisees and they have experienced pain because some "Christians" openly judged them for their past. I propose that James (3:1-3, 16) is correct when he says that controlling our speech is of the utmost importance. God takes the words we say very seriously because what we say is a direct reflection of our heart (Matt 12:36). When we are not careful, we turn others away from the grace of Jesus Christ. That is sad.
So then we play the blame game and no one steps up to take the blame. Maybe we should go back to the story about the manager with the irate customer. He apologized for the mistakes of his workers even though he personally had nothing to do with the drink that happened to get a little too much white vanilla flavoring in it. I think that's how we should approach our friends, neighbors and colleagues when they express their struggles in regards to religion, in regards to those that have done terrible things "in the name of Jesus". The words, "I'm sorry," coupled with empathy and compassion can go far. We will each stand before God one day and be judged for every action, every word.
I admit that I am not good at this. I really like to say what I am thinking especially when I'm upset. This morning, after thinking about this concept, I got on Facebook and saw something that made my insides burn a little bit. It wasn't even a big deal comment! My first reaction is to say something snotty, you know, something that is biting but covered with the veil of "a joke." Ugh. I was soooo upset with myself in that moment I typed something that was the opposite of what I actually wanted to say! I laugh inside because this is just so silly. I really didn't want to say something nice! But I did, and I suppose it's good that I did. Baby steps, that's what this God thing is. One day at a time. Hopefully one of these days I'll be able to apologize to those who I've been less than Christ-like toward.
By the way, these oh-so-amazing thoughts actually stemmed from the book, "Blue Like Jazz," chapter 12. This book has been phenomenal by the way. It's the first non-religious book about religion that I have seen.