Tennessee Greasy Spoon

This morning I had a terrifying cross-cultural experience. I ate breakfast at the 1st Street Diner in Cleveland Tennessee. I’m here to do a wedding and Chris and the kids haven’t yet joined me, so I was left alone to make these difficult decisions – like where to eat.

So I did a Google search for “local food” and it came up with the Diner. I drove on down and bellied up to the bar (literally). They cooked my eggs, bacon and pancakes five feet in front of my face on a sizzling grill with more grease on it than food. The waitress called me “honey” and all the men talked about God, guns and their truck. Every one made me look small.

I tried to look “local” and blend in, but I was outed when the man next to me flashed his toothless smile and said “Where ya from son?” I mumbled something and then he asked me what I was reading – I was the only one reading a book.

Here’s the funny thing about the whole morning. I was reading a book I brought back from England called Distinctly Welcoming – Christian Presence in a Multi Faith Society. I just flew in from a very post Christian U.K. and now here I was – reading a book about how to live out our faith in meaningful ways in this new flat world we live in – but I was doing it in the middle of the most funny of places.

Don’t get me wrong. I grew up as a gun-toting, God-loving, Republican, white male. (I still am several of those things, by the way). But when my new toothless friend asked me what I was reading – I really didn’t know how to explain it. Maybe I underestimated him. Probably. But I just didn’t think he’d understand. Here I was, a fish out of water in my own country.

Funny thing is, while in England, even though I was officially a foreigner, I felt quite at home. Partially because I was among friends, but also because I saw Muslims everywhere. Now back in the country where the passport control agent welcomed me “home,” I felt very lost. Not quite at home either here or there.

What might I learn from my “Greasy Spoon versus England” encounter? This is what I’m thinking:

1. About 5% of people in the United Kingdom would say they believe in Jesus as the way and do something about it. Nearly 40% of Americans would say the same. But I’m not sure there’s any substantial difference between the two places. America is far more “Christian” in culture but we are losing the same battles that they are – and at the same pace.

2. Here in the Bible Belt, where nearly everyone would call themselves Christian, the divorce rate is just as high as everywhere else. Drugs and alcohol are everywhere and yet the churches are full on Sunday (and their are churches on every corner). I just had lunch today with a local pastor in Chattanooga and he claims that his county is the most churched county in America and yet has an unbelievably high rate of crime and all the same sins as the rest of the country. Doesn’t surprise me, but it sure seems weird.

3. In England, the church (the real body of Christ there) knows it is light in a dark place. I’m not sure the church here does. We’re still hoping to get back to the good-ole-days when things were even more “Christian.” But we’re already more “Christian” and that isn’t doing it. Are we being fooled by that word? Whether someone calls themselves “Christian” or a “nothing” does it really matter if they aren’t actually following Jesus?

What if Jesus came to turn the world upside down? To give us new life, not just in a personal way, but also in a public way. To change our nations by fully changing our hearts. I know we believe this, but do we really? And if so, maybe the church in Great Britain is better situated then we are – they’re not just happy “being Christian” – because they’re not. They see the issues clearly and are preparing for a harvest.

Finally, I’m left wondering if feeling like an outsider is a good thing. We’re not really at home here. Are we feeling a bit too comfortable? Where is home?

And maybe that’s a part of being like Jesus – he wasn’t quite at home here either. He was both a compassionate outsider and a prophetic insider. Can we be both?


  1. john says:

    Hi Carl –

    I was at the Colorado Prayer Breakfast yesterday and I absolutely loved what you had to say.

    1. The possibility that Muslims are open to those who are friendly. And in the process open to Jesus as well.

    2. The Jewish woman’s story – I’m not here to be God’s defense attorney – if you don’t want to believe I’m not going to force you.

    My question is – are you for real? I don’t mean any disrespect – but I have heard many people tell great stories and then I find out later they weren’t true. I really want to believe what you are saying – and that scares me! Does that make any sense?

    Hope to here from you! God bless


  2. El Fouche says:

    As Englishman who has frm time to time visited the US (and knows many US Christians) I think I can see where you are coming from.

    Actually, I think the same tendency to complacency, and what we might call “Cultural Christianity” happens here as well – but that is dying out rapidly, especially in the multi-cultural inner-cities.

    I think it is the move from a white, culturall Christian nation to a multi-cultural, secualr and multi-faith society that is changing the British churches, often not always) for the better.

    Walking the streets of London today reminds me of what it was like for Paul and Peter walking the streets of Corinth, Ephesus or Rome in the first century. Draw from that what conclusions you will! But I suspect the churches in New York, LA and Chicago must be learning the same lessons – it may be just the Bible Belt that is stuck with a safe, culturally conservative Cultural Christianity.

  3. Paul Merrill says:

    Great post, Carl. (Got here via Eddie Arthur.)

    I lived in England for 3 years & Kenya for 5 years. Kenya is way more Christian than the US, in many ways, and yet corruption is about 500% more than in the States.

    My theory is that each culture has its sins. All cultures need redemption by Jesus.

  4. Bob says:

    John: I've known Carl and supported his cause for many years. Yes, he's for real. He's got at least two books out: Pillars and Prophets, and Muslims, Christians, and Jesus. I've known Carl socially, too. He lives what he preaches.

  5. Grandma K says:

    I found your book, "Muslims, Christians and Jesus" in our church library yesterday. I picked it up and decided that I should read something about Muslims and that maybe I could "wade my way through some boring details."

    I just finished reading. It is a good thing that my husband isn't coming home for supper tonight because I didn't make supper! I couldn't stop reading. I laughed, I cried and I thank God that I "happened" to find this book.

    I don't know any Muslims, yet, but I know lots of people in small town, red-neck, farming community Alberta Canada. So much of what you say applies to all people everywhere.

    And I have asked God to forgive me for my prejudice, my fear, my contempt that has been based on snippets of misinformation.

    Now I will take the book to my sister who prays for the Muslim people and I think she will be encouraged.

    So, thank you, thank you, thank you. And in there I know that God is hearing my thanks to Him that I "happened" to find your book and now to find your blog!

  6. Benjie says:

    Carl thank you for sharing with us these simple and profound thoughts. I have been in a time of my own shake up rediscovering Jesus and trying to live with that as top priority.

  7. Cheryl says:

    As an Texan…like Southern + John Wayne…I relate to the greasy spoon experience on a daily basis. However, being from a pseudo-ghetto community southwest of Houston, I found that being a Texan is a label worn proudly by Muslims, Buddhists, Nigerian Christians, Catholics & Southern Baptists. And that is just our street!!!
    Our world has changed and I'm grateful that our church is committed to an open forum that is center set oriented…We need it…even in the heart of the Bible belt of Texas.
    Thanks for your candor and challenge ~ Cherbeaux

  8. Hey everyone just wanna say hello and introduce myself!