Friday, December 7, 2012

on the magic of christianity.

I finally got angry at a customer.

It's a long story which my family and friends have heard in full, but for you, I will condense it and simply say: There are better ways to be a Christian than by creating a scene in a bookstore over the word "magic." 

Oh, you want the full story? 


A jolly-looking lady with a drugstore gift wrap bow in her hair came into the store on the busiest day we've had all year. She was looking for a Bernstein Bears book, bless her heart, and it was out of print. She was understandably disappointed and in need of a baby shower gift, so I directed her to some books I thought would be appropriate. 

She was having none of it, though, instead insistent she needed a "Christian" book. 

[Insert my own personal angry tirade on the definition of "Christian" here.]

We don't carry what most people mean when they say "Christian books," but I suggested three of my favorite titles: On the Night You Were Born, The Giving Tree, and The Velveteen Rabbit. These books, I told the customer, weren't necessarily "Christian," but they are certainly Christian-themed, full of love and grace and truth. 

I left to clean up the mess she'd made in her wake, another source of my frustration. If you are going to loudly proclaim the name Christian in a public arena, please, do me this one favor: Put things back where they go. Leave a place better than when you found it. It's the simplest act, but so noticeably different.

As I was scurrying around putting back the books from her reject pile, I heard the loud slam of a book being shut.

"I don't do magic," the customer said with disdain. She had a Santa shirt on and a bow in her hair, so I'm a little confused as to what she thinks magic is, exactly, because if anything is magic, it's Santa. I approached her cautiously (as I do most irrational people). 

"I'm sorry?"

"This book has magic in it. I don't do magic." 

On the Night You Were Born sat forlornly on the table where it had been slammed shut, destined to be a part of this woman's ever-growing reject pile. I knew polar bears danced in On the Night You Were Born, but I was a little surprised this woman was taking her tirade against magic so far. I gently pushed her to another section of the store, and when it was said and done, she picked out a zebra stuffed animal and a copy of Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages of Children

Mission accomplished. 

As I was wrapping her shower gift, though, I realized something else was amiss. She just looked so... perturbed. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong -- our gift wrap process consists of colored tissue paper and gift tags, nothing super-complicated -- so I just went about my business, tying bows and fluffing ribbon. 

I swiped her credit card and wished her a lovely day before she looked at me and asked for a pair of scissors. I handed them over, still unsure what was going on. As she fiddled with the front of her bag, it hit me. 

Our everyday gift tags feature a quote from Stephen King's On Writing: "Book are a uniquely portable magic."

The line of customers had grown, but the woman snipped angrily away at the gift tag, cutting off the offensive part while repeating, aloud, the mantra she'd spoken since she'd slammed shut On the Night You Were Born: "We don't do magic."

I apologized profusely -- "I would have been happy to wrap your gift without a tag!" -- before she plonked down the scissors, grabbed her bag, and proudly made her way to the front door. I'd never seen someone so utterly pleased with themselves over causing a scene. 

I was absolutely livid. 

In the grand scheme, I'm sure it's a small thing, and I'm a little surprised at my overall reaction. Plenty of quirky, frustrating customers come in on a daily basis. Some ask to borrow books for a class; others let their children ransack the store with a hammer. (A story for another day.) Mostly, though, those are the stories I laugh about. People are just so darn interesting; I can't be angry because I'm too busy trying to remember it all. I want to be able to share the stories later.

This, I guess, hit a nerve. I'm always wary when the term "Christian" is thrown around as an adjective, and nothing annoys me more than when a very public Christian proceeds to act in a manner so unlike the manner of the Christ I know. And although I want to respect others for their beliefs, I firmly believe this woman could have quietly and graciously asked for a different gift tag. She could have put her discarded books back on the shelves. She could have simply selected another book without launching into her diatribe. 

Now, too, I work in a place where I am very much in the minority, and I want so desperately to live my life in a way that shows love and kindness and respect. I want to change the attitudes and perceptions about believers in my current business, and I feel like this woman -- with her tacky Christmas bow and her inability to differentiate between connotation and denotation -- proved them all right. 

It's tough sometimes, to be a Christian in a world where the term can be associated with so many different things and ideologies. I feel like I constantly need to apologize, need to let people know the Jesus they've just seen isn't the Jesus I know.

But then there are other times, too, when I am so utterly grateful for fellow believers, for the joy and the encouragement they bring to my life, and I know: Not all is lost.

Christianity, I think, is its own form of magic, full of myth and imagery and paradox and quirky, complex characters who are just as broken as the world they're called to serve.

I think that's why I got so angry. I serve a God who creates magic every day, who in the very movement of trees and the breaths that I take proves He is creative and majestic and so incredibly good. 

I don't want to be angry anymore. It's silly to hold onto something too long, so I'll let this go, file it away in the growing folder of "things that get my panties in a twist." But I do want to remember why it made me angry. No matter where you stand on things like magic and mystery and myth, I think we can all agree that sometimes, it's the smaller things that matter most. And last Saturday, that woman could have done so many quiet things to better represent her Savior. She could have put her rejected books back where they belonged. She could have asked for a wrapped gift without a tag. She could have looked on her own for what she needed.

She could have been gracious and kind, and in so doing, she would have represented the magic of the season and the magic of the Savior... all without uttering a word.


mikailah said...

oh, dear. *sigh* it is frustrating and exasperating at times how people can claim to be Christians and then act in a way that isn't Christ-like at all. {not accusing anyone; all Christians do it at some point in their walk with Christ--many times, in fact.} but it doesn't change the feeling of disgust at times when so called "Christians" act that way.

what you wrote is truth, though. acting as Christ would is SO much more than just speaking words. its the way we speak them, the way we act, the way we express ourselves. so important. :)

hope your next experience with a... unsatisfied customer is a bit more pleasant. ;) and have a 'magically' blessed Christmas season! ;]


m said...

I've been a blog lurker for a while, but this particular post compelled me to post my first comment.

The best advice I've ever received about evangelism - a word I hate because it makes me think of tracts and door-knocking misadventures - was that evangelism is about changing people's assumptions. It's that simple. I can't tell you how much that helped me since I have way more questions than answers and can't remember the right book, chapter, verse to save my life.

Anyway, it sounds like you're doing just that and I'm glad to find other believers that aren't making fools of themselves while they rail against the mythical war on Christmas. Keep it up sister!

m said...

I've been a blog lurker for a while now, but this post inspired my first comment :)

The best advice I have ever received about evangelism - a word I hate because it makes me think of cliche tracts and misadventures in door-knocking - is that evangelism is about changing people's assumptions. It's that simple. I can't tell you how much that has helped me since I have more questions than answers and can't remember the correct book, chapter, verse to save my life. What I can do is be honest about my faith journey and help people see past the stereotypical Christian.

Anyway, it sounds like you're doing just that, which is so encouraging to me since this time of year doesn't always bring out the best in believers (war on Christmas anyone?). Keep it up sister!

lacey said...

i am so glad you shared this story. i am one of the few christians in my workplace, and it gets discouraging and frustrating at times. i want my coworkers to see the hope and love and joy Christ can bring. i am encouraged by your words this morning. thank you for sharing all of the juicy details. :-)

Shanna said...

This was the first thing I read today, still in bed, checking Twitter in that barely awake of early morning. I like the way you wrote it so much that I then rolled over and read it out loud to my husband next to me.

First, I completely get this women, and, by get her, I mean I know her. She is the world I grew up in, and, sometimes, she has been me. I want to give you a big high five for giving her the graciousness she was lacking because THAT is powerful, even if she doesn't know it yet.

Second, please tell us more book customer stories! I love this look into your world!

Leslie Lee said...

Wow! So crazy that she felt the need to act that way.
Loved what you had to say here. Great post, friend :)

Hailey Marie said...

Love your perspective and your reaction to this- That's the true force of the situation, when things stir in our gut and stay on our minds for days to come. I apologize ahead of time for a long comment but this totally rang close: Working in small-privately-owned (for overtly atheist/Christian-hating owners) shops for six years, selling crude cards and Jesus-mocking kitsch among the pretty wrapping paper and candles, as the only Christian, I struggled daily with my identity as a Christian and my role as a sales associate who's primary purpose was to make customers happy. Several times I had tense conversations with co-workers who pressed be about my "silly faith", which looking back was totally inappropriate, but at the time I was in church-mode, trying to give the best answers and use every opportunity to witness to those around me. Actually, even during my years of working for art museums, nannying, and as a real estate agent I have NEVER had a single Christian boss or manager. Also living in Boulder and Denver, Christians are hugely outnumbered and targeted- a singer at a concert Saturday took full liberty at using Christian-bashing slang and lyrics while the audience roared with laughter- something I don't think would happen in some other states. Not to mention the poor decisions made by Christ followers themselves that have spurred awful stereotypes and extreme disdain for Christians as a whole. I think it's just a simple reminder that we live in a world that is not our home, we are rejected because the world ultimately rejected Him first. It's also a reflection of how broken we are, even among other believers, and how wrong we get things sometimes. Trust me, you're already being a source of light in a dark place, and no matter how dim or small the light may be sometimes, even the tiniest spark can fill a room, once our eyes learn to adjust to it.

Melissa said...

It's so frustrating dealing with people like that, isn't it? People who go around making declarations and judgments without even thinking about how others will perceive them, perceive Christians. Reminds me of this line from a NOOMA video years ago:
"How can so few speak for so many?"

In college, we often had "Christians" on campus with fire and brimstone signs in busy places. The saddest one I saw said "Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life...HELL." Some of my coworkers at the time had angry discussions whenever these people were around. They would yell at and chastise others and even when I politely declined a little green bible (because I already had one at home!) they treated me like I was lying.

The Jesus I know is loving, accepting, and forgiving. He would never treat people like that. I wish everyone would realize that!

The funniest part of your story is that the Bernstein Bears books aren't even blatantly Christian, are they?!

Anonymous said...

She must not be aware that the Bernstein Bears talk, wear clothes, and have supermarkets, schools, and festivals. Yikes!

jenna said...

Mmmm... that would have made me SOOOO angry too!! That woman was just a very tangible walking contradiction!!
This story sounds like a parable.... my contradictions may not be as "in your face, blatant, obnoxious" (or maybe sometimes they are), but I, at times, am also a walking contradiction. Very convicting.