When W returned home for the holidays after her first semester of school at Vanderbilt, she said "M, I've learned something... you think you know about the South, but you really don't... not until you live there." Now that I've lived in Atlanta for almost a year and a half, I totally agree with and understand this statement. I'll refrain from elaborating (this time) about what I've learned so far about SEC sports, politics, fried foods, guns, etc... but trust me, it's been a lot and it's been highly intriguing!
One thing that I would like to spend a minute talking about, though, is religion in the south. In my experience, it is a totally different situation than religion in the north. I wish I had a great way of explaining what I think the differences are... I've tried and failed on many occasions to communicate my thoughts on the subject. The best I can do is to say that, generally speaking, (Christian) faith is a cultural thing in the south. Moreover, maybe it's just better to say that a "southern culture" exists... more than a "northern culture" exists. In my experience a "northern culture" is simply the absence or opposite of those things which clearly define "southern culture"... does that make sense? Anyway, most southern people identify with their culture, are proud of their culture, and live and breathe its defining characteristics... which brings me back to Christian faith (and SEC sports, etc).
In many places and with many people down here, it's kind of just understood that most people are real-life practicing Christians. How could you not be with churches literally on every corner?! Faith is just generally more present here. And this intrigues me... I like it. And I'm learning a lot from observing this southern phenomeon, specifically about how to be a better witness to others. I guess you could say that I'm learning from southern culture how to wear my faith a little more on my sleeve.
And now... to the most fascinating case study of this, which I have creatively titled "Selling Chicken for Jesus."
Do all you northern friends know that Chick-fil-A is a seriously Christian institution?! I totally didn't until I moved to Atlanta (home of the CFA national headquarters). Seriously, Chick-fil-A is selling chicken for Jesus non-stop, all day, every day (well... minus Sundays, actually). The company observes the sabbath, has Bible verse(s) all over their corporate office, hires almost exclusively practicing Christian people, is massively philanthropic, and models Christian values and leadership all the way up the (food) chain (ha! I'm so funny!). The more I learn about the company, the more fascinated I am by this incredible example of living, breathing Christianity in a very secular industry. I think we can all learn a lot from some of what they do (and don't do). So, here are some observations about what they do right:
1) They put their financial success in God's hands. Who in any kind of food industry thinks that it's a wise idea to be closed during 50% of the weekend?! That would be NO ONE. Yet, Chick-fil-A remains closed on Sundays because they practice the idea that if we're faithful and obedient to God, He'll credit that faith back to us.
2) They follow the Golden Rule. Do you know that Chick-fil-A employees get free lunch every day? True story. There are thousands of employees at the corporate office and each and every one of them gets whatever they want from a massive cafeteria every single workday for free. Do you know that instead of saying "your welcome" all CFA employees have to instead say "my pleasure"? Chick-fil-A models servant leadership from the top down, and they work hard not just to treat the customer as though s/he is always right, but as though s/he is a valued child of God.
3) They share the fruit of the spirit. I mentioned previously that Chick-fil-A almost exclusively hires real-deal Christians. Seriously. One of the girls in my Bible study last year went through a 5-round interview process just to serve up sandwiches at a store. They are serious about filling their ranks with people who are spirit-led, kind, honest, forgiving, passionate people who are in line with the CFA mission and values.
4) They are "on mission." They want people to know that CFA is down with Jesus. I already mentioned the Bible verses. Some stores give away free sandwiches to customers who show up with a church bulletin. Many stores play instrumental versions of popular Christian songs throughout the store. They live up to their reputation in their actions and words.
I just think all of this is so fascinating! I literally forget that Chick-fil-A is in the business of selling chicken because it seems so much like a ministry to me. But that's the thing... it is a ministry. They don't go around selling fries in the shape of crosses or forcing people to pledge their allegiance to Jesus at the drive-through... but they do a couple of things very well that communicates clearly that their big boss is the man upstairs. The company works hard at fulfilling Paul's charge to us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."
That inspires me. If they can sell delicious chicken for the glory of God, I think that I can find a way to glorify God in my secular work environment as well. Maybe it truly is as simple as being faithful, obedient, spirit-led, and missional. Maybe I don't need to hand out crosses either, but simply do my thing as a Christian person unapologetically, and let people see it. Perhaps that's what Christ meant when He said "let you light shine before men"? I'm definitely thinking so...