Lap Dances And Free $50 Bills

I went to a Tenebrae service in a nearby town with two young adult friends (who now attend my church) and we stopped to eat at a pub on the way home. It turned out that there was karaoke that night, so we stayed to sing and enjoy ourselves. I believe there’s an incriminating video of me singing “Mambo Italiano” floating around on Facebook right now, if you need the proof.

A friendly guy stopped at our table. Flirty, funny, sarcastic, and fun. Justine, who is new to church-going and is gonzo about it, said, “You should come to our church some time!” The guy rolled his eyes and made some derisive remark about the “Zombie Jesus.”

The three of us immediately reassured the guy that We’re Not Like That. Because that’s the first thing you have to do these days when you mention that you’re part of a church community: suffer the immediate knee-jerk rejection of people who assume you must be a flaming Santorum. It’s too bad, but Christians in America have earned our own nasty reputation, and the cool kids have to suffer by association. But as the great Dolly Parton says, “Get off the cross, we need the wood.”

As we chatted amiably enough about church, the guy continued to rib us. I mean, we’re Unitarian Universalists: evangelism is hardly our thing! Our usual idea of proselytizing is to invite someone to an animal rights rally. Rarely will you find a UU gushing about how much she loves church, but that’s where Justine is at right now and I think it’s wonderful.

The guy made a crack I thought was hilarious. He said, “Why should I go to church? Are they offering lap dances and handing out free $50 bills?”

I thought it was a great line until it hit me that he was being serious. Here he was, a guy alone at a bar, making a statement about what really would be attractive and valuable to him.

But we’re the loser nerds and he’s the “cool kid” by this society’s standards. We’re the geeks who had just come from a worship service and were sharing a meal together, and he was the lone dude swaggering around comfortably insulting something that is precious to us.

I have thought for some time that the way to witness to people like that is to match them sarcastic comment for sarcastic comment, let them poke fun at me and the Church (and God), and stay around being cool with them. I would certainly rather do that than to get huffy and offended or to try to speak earnestly with them and to watch their eyes glaze over. Who actually opens the doors to the Jehovah’s Witnesses any more? Who feels obligated to listen to a chick in a pub talk about her religion? No one.

But now I think that there must be some middle way between sheer mutual goofing around (after all, would I so casually tolerate that level of disrespectful teasing about any other important aspect of my identity?) and over-earnest evangelizing. However I do it, I want to keep it light, friendly and inviting, but I also want it to be real and courageous.

Something like this might have worked:

“There’s cool people in churches who are just as smart-assed and skeptical as you, but who really get a lot out of being together asking the big questions and supporting each other in finding some answers.”

Or, “Yea, I know that there are a lot of obnoxious religious people in the world, but there’s a lot of lonely, obnoxious drunks in bars, too. Quit dissing the church or I’m going to take you out to the parking lot and kick your ass for Jesus.”

That latter remark would certainly get his attention. The point is, you have to speak to people from where they are. I’ll have to work on this.



7 Replies to “Lap Dances And Free $50 Bills”

  1. You give this person a lot of sympathy and credit and seem to like him. You must be nicer than me, because I don’t. No matter what other Christians have done, you don’t deserve or need the scorn of some douchebag who feels like repeatedly mocking something that is clearly important to your friend makes him cool. I mean, we’re talking social skills most of my older YRUUs have mastered.

    Thus, the reactions that come to mind for me is more along the lines of “Zombie Jesus? Oh, that’s so new. Now piss off, junior high boy, and come back when you’ve got some new material.”
    “Show me something that’s worth a lap dance or a fifty dollar bill and we’ll talk about Sunday, but so far, I’m not impressed.”

    Just because I’m into the church like that doesn’t mean I have to take crap from idiots.


  2. First off, I think your friend Justine might want to wait a little longer to pop the church invitation to a total stranger. Perhaps she should have a discussion about religious upbringing, spirituality, etc. before assuming he’s up for a visit to your church / any church. If I was talking to some strangers at karaoke and they invited me to their church within the first few minutes of talking to them, I could see getting a “gooble-gobble one of us” vibe.

    Still, I wouldn’t be mean about it, and this guys was. Forget him! He’s probably not a good candidate if he’s that closed off and rude when someone brings up their passion about church. I’m sure there are hundreds and hundreds of people that would be decent to you and to whom you could talk about UUism with that might end up interested in your church. It’s a waste of time trying to convince people that are actively disinterested.

    Also, I feel like your assessment of him as “cool” and you and your friends as “loser nerds” is playing a big part in the conundrum you seem to be having over this. Even though you say it’s “society’s standards,” I think it’s also your personal opinion to some degree. It seems like you invest in the idea that you have to cater to the young, smart ass, rude, (“cool”) people of the world to get them interested in church. You don’t, and you shouldn’t. Be earnest with them, tell them why the church and your spiritual path has mattered to you, and leave it at that. If they “glaze over,” what you have to offer isn’t for them right now.

    And remember to listen to some punk rock and say “fuck society’s standards” ten times a day in the morning. This is the society that produced New Kids on the Block and reality TV and Angry Birds. It’s totally bankrupt. And when people who get tired of being cool and see where a life of wanting lap dances and free money and investing in society’s standards, there we’ll be, EARNEST AS FUCK.

  3. Dunno about you, Chris, but I read the “cool” and “loser nerds” as irony. Did you miss that?

  4. This story reminded me of when my mom and I were visiting family–traveling with my then four year old daughter. I was a single mom in need of a night out, so I took a book and headed out to find a coffee shop. Somehow I ended up at a bar, still with my book. Sitting at the bar, with a copy of Anne Lamott’s “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith” I had a funny conversation with college guys trying to get more drinks from the bartender next to me. It was crowded, so they had to kind of move into my space to get their order. After apologizing, one of them noticed my book. “You brought a book to a bar?” He picked it up, read the title, and said incredulously: “You brought a book about religion to a bar?” I just smiled. They ordered an extra Irish car bomb drink for me. Later, after we had talked a little more (what they were studying, what my book was really about, etc.) they invited me to their house party which was where they were headed. I laughed. No thanks…I have a kid and her grandma waiting for me to get home. Somehow they couldn’t put the whole puzzle together, but it was intriguing.

  5. I would like to offer this guy $50 if he will bring 2 friends and come to my church and then have lunch with me afterword (I’ll buy) and reflect on their experiences and brainstorm with me about how to reach out to and help church be more meaningful for “secular, non-religious” people. We desperately need more “focus-group” opportunities! [You know, I didn’t think of that! Good idea! – PB]

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