Oregon vs. West Michigan Coffee Shops

Last week I worked at home midweek since I had to have blood drawn for the doctor in the morning. Vegas had the odds of me passing out at 45:1, but I stood strong. How do ya like me now, phlebotomists!

I actually then went to a nearby coffeeshop/restaurant to work and began to notice a curious thing: half the people around me seemed to be talking or reading about Jesus. An older lady near me seemed to be studying about prayer. A young lady with a diamond ring the size of Delaware was telling an older lady about working at a food pantry ministry. I thought one old guy was converting another but then I determined they were both Jesus-y already. And when a coworker later joined me, we were discussing Bible passages for our project energetically enough that the prayer-study lady asked us if we knew where a certain passage was and a businessman waiting for someone felt compelled to comment on what we were discussing. (He first asked us if we went to the local college, so he was all right by us–the phlebotomist had asked me too, so double score! for inheriting my mom’s mistaken-for-younger-ness).

Obviously I don’t have anything against people talking about Jesus. So I suppose I should I should have felt glad–or “blessed”–to have so many people talking about Jesus all around me. But I have to say, I mostly found it odd. It’s not bad, it’s just so very West Michigan. People in Oregon do not talk about Jesus in restaurants all that often, in my experience (with the clear exception of my pizza-joint-inhabiting youth pastor husband). Typical eavesdropping in an Oregon coffeeshop might be how the softball tournament went or how the fishing has been or if the spaghetti dinner raised enough for Herman’s cancer treatment. Rarely did I hear people speaking of their personal faith, let alone getting down to naming names like Jesus.

Does that make Oregon a less “blessed” place? I remember a conversation with someone at our old church the first time we visited after moving to Oregon. We tried to describe how it’s a different culture and he went on about how when he visited he could “feel the darkness.” I was borderline offended and I hadn’t even fallen in love with our town yet. I just wouldn’t put it that way. Yes, we encountered a lot of sad, difficult, and even dark things, and I believe Jesus can shine a light of hope and truth into those things. In terms of history and churchgoing, and maybe coffeeshop conversations, Oregon has “less Jesus” and West Michigan has “more Jesus.”

But is the whole earth filled with his glory or isn’t it?

There’s not more Jesus here than in Oregon. There’s just not. Because he’s everywhere, even if his people aren’t, or haven’t recognized him there yet.

So while there are a lot of good things about West Michigan, I wouldn’t say it is more blessed. It’s not some kind of Promised Land. It’s not free of deep, painful brokenness (believe me, life has not let us forget that this week). I don’t see this as necessarily a better place to live or raise a family just because if you talk about the Bible in a coffeeshop people around you will already know what you’re talking about. I think I’d rather have that conversation where it’s one small act of bright, rebellious light-shedding.

I’d rather hold one bright candle in a dark room than fall asleep under dull florescents.

Sometimes I miss the pagans.

9 thoughts on “Oregon vs. West Michigan Coffee Shops

  1. After growing up in West Michigan, specifically Sparta, and now living in Oregon, I can totally relate to this post. I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) Oregon is one of the most unchurched states in the nation. Michigan, on the other hand, is considered part of the Bible belt. From my experience, I see that “religion” is much more excepted in MI. There, it is assumed you attend church in some form. But, I also see that in MI, faith is not held as strong as it seems to be here. In Oregon, if you are a believer in Jesus, your faith must be firm because you face criticism and persecution from all angles. Maybe it’s just my experience with the people I’m exposed to, but although the believers in OR are fewer and farther between and you rarely hear talk about Jesus in coffee shops, there’s much more passion from those who do believe. Regardless, it certainly is easier to be a believer there in MI. Your last couple lines really hit home for me and they’re so true.

  2. Not having lived in West Michigan, or Oregon, I can only say that I have also observed the “out loud” testimony of Jesus people. But don’t forget that in a lot of Bible Belt states, many folks know their Bible verses and can manipulate them to justify many things that Jesus would find very offensive. Good Jesus people can be very quiet in coffee shops but very loud and outspoken in other places. I would say that is the case with many friends at my church in Lansing, a church that is more in tune with doing what churches should actually do than any other church I have attended.

  3. When I was growing up in little Ionia, in a little fundamentalist church, I often experienced real love and grace and understanding from those that my family and church deemed “the unsaved, unredeemed”, more so than from those who claimed to be “saved, redeemed and living for Jesus”. Makes me suspect that His Glorey is farther reaching than we realise…. Maybe Oregon is more authentic than West MI.

  4. Wendy you are far more tolerant or understanding than I am. I do have something against people talking about Jesus at the coffee shops. It is one of the reasons I long to get out of west MI. Half the time it seems they don’t know what they are talking about: conversations about the rapture, people praying our president would “get saved” and the most offensively ignorant conversations about human sexuality. Blahc! Give me a culture where everyone is not an amateur Bible scholar and I will be happy.

  5. I like what momjoycegrandma says: authentic. That’s what it is. And Wendy, having grown up in SW MI and now living on the “east side,” I can tell you it’s purely a mid-West MI thing. A typically Holland/GR thing. In my wanderings through SJ, K-zoo, & GR, it’s only been around GR that I have heard people talking “out loud” about their faith. And, as momjoycegrandma says, that’s also where I have encountered the most hypocritical Christians around – Christians in personal name/life only, but not when it comes down to actions like GIVING & HELPING & spreading the Word.

  6. Thanks Amy and Wayne. I will take a non-hypocritical athiest over the lazy believers anyday, anytime.

  7. Alas, so very Ottawa county, with Calvin forefathers/mothers, but all around there’s poverty and difficulty in Allegan, Ionia, & Kalkaska to name a few. It’s the hypocritical part that’s so troubling –diamonds/soup lunch, pro-life/anti-insurance and so on.
    Congrats on conquering phlebotomist-phobia!

  8. After growing up in West Michigan, specifically Sparta, and now living in Oregon, I can totally relate to this post. I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) Oregon is one of the most unchurched states in the nation. Michigan, on the other hand, is considered part of the Bible belt. From my experience, I see that “religion” is much more excepted in MI. There, it is assumed you attend church in some form. But, I also see that in MI, faith is not held as strong as it seems to be here. In Oregon, if you are a believer in Jesus, your faith must be firm because you face criticism and persecution from all angles. Maybe it’s just my experience with the people I’m exposed to, but although the believers in OR are fewer and farther between and you rarely hear talk about Jesus in coffee shops, there’s much more passion from those who do believe. Regardless, it certainly is easier to be a believer there in MI. Your last couple lines really hit home for me and they’re so true.

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