Why a ‘juice and cookie’ Jesus can never satisfy our souls.
My two brothers and I sat in the back of our rusty, over-sized late 1960’s Buick, stuffing our faces with cream horn pastries-one of the few traditions we had as a homeless family living in an abandoned building in Detroit. Every Sunday, we’d excitedly go to the store for cream horn pastries-spiral, flaky pastries with a hollow center filled with cream. This Sunday tradition was a strange, seemingly meaningless thing to get excited about but living without electricity, running water, and predictable food made this small ritual something to look forward to. I was nine years old and had already amassed a lifetime of pain and despair and our Sunday morning ritual was one of the few bright spots in our lives. On that Sunday morning, however, I ate my pastry with a pang in my heart.
We had just become homeless but our previous house of several years always donned a sign on the front which read, “The Moore’s-The Atheists,” we had a barrel on the side of the house for burning Bibles and religious ‘nonsense.’ Our Atheism was a strong family value and the sign on the house was the only family motto I knew-our seal, our crest, our identity. From an early age, I was told that religion was something that people used to make them feel good or to help them through life like a crutch because they were crippled.
That Sunday, homeless and sucking on soggy cream horn shells in our rusted-out car, we were poor and needy- desperate and willing to take a risk on God. We were destitute, starving, freezing, dirty, and at risk of losing everything. This is why we finally said yes to attend church. Walking in we found about 60 or so people singing. We slid into the back pew as I observed this strange world. I didn’t understand much. There seemed to be a lot of expectations–when to sit and stand, what to say and how to say it.
During the service, children were dismissed and brought by ages to smaller rooms for a Bible lesson and snacks. The juice was delicious, and I drank more than my share as could be clearly understood by the looks of the other children who glared at me in their beautiful clothes. The Bible teacher asked, “What would you do if God spoke to you from a burning bush?” I spoke first and with confidence, “I would say, ‘Oh my God!’” The only way I had ever heard my parents reference God was in this way but as I thought about the question, I thought that this would, in fact, be the way I’d respond to God. The children gasped and glared. I became acutely aware that I had crossed some line, I had violated some rule I hadn’t been told about yet. Not knowing what to do, I doubled down and re-asserted that my response would be “Oh my God!” The teacher finally yelled at me-“Get out! Get out of our class!” So that is what I did, taking one last cookie, I got up and walked out.
My first encounter with church showed me that it was a place of unspoken rules and expectations-it was small and strange and uncomfortable. Over the years, this experience has become a metaphor and a challenge to me now that I am a Christian leader. I believe many church encounters are exactly like my story. People experience one Jesus in our friendship and love and another ‘juice and cookie Jesus’ in the ritual we call church. Church can be filled with invisible fences. Far too often, our religious services and spaces are shrouded in inaccessible mystery, with fog-like words and coded social assumptions. Even in some of the ‘coolest and most relevant’ churches, when true non-churched people encounter us, they often encounter an inaccessible world of lights and fog machines and messages about better lives and marriages but no real vision of the person of Jesus Christ! As Christian leaders, we need to work to make our church services something more than just another sucked on, soggy cream horn of an experience.
By R. York Moore
Click HERE to view Moore’s book ‘Do Something Beautiful’