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When Church Works, Part 2: Countering Monday Atheism at the Cursed Café

Monday, 2 April 2012  | Gordon Preece

A month ago (here), I mentioned Spotswood Anglican’s Men@Work group as a way of addressing a problem much worse than the Global Atheist Convention that’s in Melbourne in two weeks. That problem is called by a recent book ‘Monday Atheism’, the more subtle, insidious disease of practical atheism (cf Ps 14:1) due to the Sunday-Monday dualism or gap many believers have between their faith or church and work.

The second example I foreshadowed from one particular weekend where church really worked was the case of the cursed café. This occurred when I was called by my barber, a lapsed Catholic with a Pentecostal wife, who always warmly and reverently welcomes me in front of his whole barber shop as ‘Father’ or ‘Reverend Gordon’, despite my pleas for plain ‘Gordon’. We then have intricate discussions about faith which we’ve carried on for the past decade, with plenty of eavesdroppers. My barber, whose shop is adorned with Elvis paraphernalia, pictures of his martial arts heroes, and DVD players awaiting repair, is really an informal community worker, always concerned about the local Italians and others, especially younger people he teaches martial arts to. His call concerned an unofficial aunty—there’s lots of those in the Italian community. She runs a café opposite his shop and he often runs over there to make his own coffee. He’s even helped her cook when she’s been short-handed. He’s phoned me to say his ‘aunt’ was worried that her café had been cursed, and could I come down and bless it and her. I said, ‘Sure’.

When I rolled up at the café, I met a delightful older Italian-Australian woman weighed down by the cares of running an older-style restaurant in a changing, gentrifying area. She couldn’t escape these cares because she lived right above the shop. Its worries wafted right up and over her—24/7. Amidst a tale of financial woe and bad luck, illness and hardship, one concern stood out: an apparently well-meaning friend had been mixed up in some fairly weird occultic stuff and had offered the services of her ouiji board. Fortunately, my newfound friend’s Catholic instincts were strong enough for her to resist, but she still wondered whether there may have been some kind of curse placed on her and her café. After munching a delicious meal of porterhouse steak and mushrooms while listening to her whole story, and her chef’s views to boot that she really needed to sell up and retire, I prayed with her. I prayed for God’s blessing on her and her business, that God would cast out all fear, that Jesus would show his power over every other power, that any evil presence or oppression would be overpowered and that her business would prosper and she’d find rest and peace in Christ. A fortnight later, after my haircut, I followed up my earlier visit and occasional prayers and found that she’d decided to sell the shop. Now I pray that she’ll be able to sell, for a fair and decent price to ensure a well-earned retirement.

A socially activist friend asked me if I’d prayed for the ‘cursed’ café to prosper. I said, ‘Yes, in the same way Jeremiah 28 encourages us to pray for the peace and prosperity (shalom) of the city of Babylon’. I’d heard of another pastor asked by an Indian man if he could come and bless his newly established insurance business. The man, a nominal Christian or God-fearer, had been egged on by his Muslim wife to do so. The pastor had some doubts, wondering if the blessing he’d want would be a fairly selfish, profit-based one. Instead he found a man who, while he wanted the blessing of a fair profit, wanted blessing for his workers, customers, the business and community it connected him to. Eventually he came along to a men’s group at church that majored on work issues.

Too often, Christians jump to talking about and praying purely for salvation rather than laying the basis for its bright light in the biblical and creational background belief in God’s blessing. Many have a kind of intermittent deism of deliverance, seeing only God’s occasional isolated miraculous interventions to deliver his people, not his constant common grace and blessing which preserves the world, helps it prosper and prepares the way for salvation (as Claus Westermann shows in his wonderful book Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church). If Christians were praying more for their work, their fellow-workers, bosses and customers, their community and place, there might well be more openness to the message of grace. And the tide of Monday atheism might begin to be turned.

(In Part 3 next month, we’ll tell the story of the church council member who wanted its meeting days changed so she could continue sailing, the decision that was made, and the way the wind of the Spirit moved in the lives of several sailors as a result.)

Questions for Bible Study

  1. To what extent do you think Monday atheism is a problem for many Christians or for yourself?

  2. What do you think about praying for blessing for workplaces? Who and what could you pray blessing for?

  3. Have a look at the genealogy of God’s blessing on people and jobs in Genesis 4 and ask whether God is still in the blessing business today?

  4. How might the blessings or beatitudes of Matthew 5 work themselves out in the character of Christians at work today?

  5. Should pastors be visiting people in the workplace and praying for blessing on their work? If so how could they do it in a secular society?


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