Friday, April 29, 2005
Next day, call to tell a friend about it. She was in tears, having just learned that her sister has brain cancer. Toward the end of our conversay I asked permission to tell the story.
She laughed and laughed and laughed and thanked me for the story. So: a guy makes a fool of himself and it becomes a blessing for someone else? That God guy...go figure.
Here is a copy of my letter written in response to the statement:
The question was posed by a woman who continues to worship at the congregation/denomination we left a year ago:
To state as simply as I can, I do not have a chapter-verse, proof-text answer. Oh, yes, I could dig around and come up with one or two, and you would probably agree with my stance.
But that proof-text approach to our faith and our God...the proof-text approach is way, way too small to embrace the greatness and goodness of the God you and I both profess and worship.
An observation [written to address an idea raised by S--]: getting rid of [the preacher] will not 'fix' the problem. The health of the congregation is in the hands of its members. A congregation (and this is not the only one I have seen with this attitude) which places all responsibility (and blame) on its evangelist is missing the speck in its own collective eye.
But then, there is no collective eye where the body sees itself only as individual believers gathering three times a week for worship and fellowship. Some questions: If we (you guys, in this case) believe that we are Christ's body on earth, what does that mean in terms of our collective behavior as individuals? as a worshipping body on Sunday? as members of the greater community surrounding us?
And if we are single body, why do we not accept full responsibility for who we are as a body? If we consider the health of our collective body, how then do we respond to the (public) sinners in our body? Do we surround them with acceptance, love, understanding, prayer? Or do we run for our Bibles and look for a verse or two to hurl?
Do we look for ways to grow in our love and be Christ-like? Or is our first impulse to look for "Godly" ways to convict and condemn?
Ok, yup. Now I am preaching. Bottom line: the Church (big C) most often has it backwards. The Church and the church spends its faith energy in trying to do God's job (judge) instead of an apostle's job (chasing after God, who is light and love).
I don't expect a response from you and I don't expect you to agree. That's ok. I have answered as simply as I can. If you want to understand more, you may go to my blog at www.treereach.blogspot.com
I wish you well.
and i sent this as an introduction.
I will forward your note to John.
As for my answer to your question, "I would like to know why you feel you cannot worship with us," there are many responses. I will keep my responses much briefer than they really are.
1) The last time I spoke with you about the church I said that for me, [the preacher's] comment (about one of the little girls) and his demeanor in general must be addressed. You were not willing to address, I gather, because of the gender issue, so you said that you would talk to [your husband] and get back with me. You did not.
To frame answer #1 in terms of church, I had felt for some time that it was sinful to continue fellowshipping/worshipping with a congregation that was unwilling to address this very serious issue of spiritual development and growth. The church, the body of Christians at [the church we are discussing], told me, showed me, over and over again that it was not willing to stand up for what is right. To sound really sanctimonious about it: I take my walk with Christ much more seriously than that.
Even though I sometimes swear. Even though I get angry. Even though I haven't been a 'real' Christian for very long. Even though I don't know all the Bible answers. Even though I am not one of 'you.' My anger is not directed at you, S--. But you asked, and I have had enough of people not being honest.
The congregation at the corner of T-- and W-- was interested in perfect Christians only. The kind who didn't have messy lives, messy pain, messy pasts. The kind who dressed the right way on Sunday (and the rest of the week, too, in case someone should see them). The kind that didn't ask hard questions or disagree with the the same tired, thoughtless answer that has been passed down the line for the last 75 years.
S--, the above was my first draft. The more I wrote, the angrier I got. I'm sending it along as a point of...interest, maybe? So you get some feelings along with the more lecture-type response I ended up writing.
Bottom line is, I like and respect the individuals at the congregation. Some a bit more, some a bit less. I was very sorry to leave.
Leaving, however, has also been very freeing. Now our friendships have expanded. We have come to a greater understanding of our faith. We are more able to accept differing beliefs and have become perfectly willing to believe that God honors others for their sincere faith efforts--even when our doctrine says "WRONG."
So you could say we are really out there: God honors contradictions. God is not black and white. God is found mostly in the gray, when we stumble into each other and show grace.
My formal note to you is attached.
I wish you well. I also miss you.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
most of the time it seems as though christians try to parse their world and all their decisions in black and white. THIS is right; THAT is wrong. THIS is true; THAT is false.
when i read the bible, or think about the God of Christianity, it does make sense (to me) that God has some very definite ideas about rightness and wrongness, truth and untruth. but it does not seem to me that we are called to figure out the boundaries, then stay far away from them.
rather, it seems more as though we are called to find our way through a maze, or a fog. sometimes the path is straight and easy to follow, sometimes the fog lifts and we catch a glimpse of terrain that stretches far beyond what we imagined.
when we turn our eyes back to the ground immediately in front of us we no longer see. we forget the clarity and vividness we perceived only moments earlier.
we return to finding our way along a path studded with landmarks, their significance now beyond our understanding.
is this where the gray is? no matter what step we take, nor how long we have chosen to step away from God, we are never farther away from God than the step we turn toward him. the gray is all that area where we afraid to trust that God will honor our efforts.
instead of trusting God, we tell him where the lines are.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
it helps remind people that 'he' includes 'she.'
even in the tries-to-be-liberal church where i work, the women have one special service each year run by the women...which says if you still feel the need to have a special day, then you're probably not feeling all that included.
the he-she gender inclusive language helps disrupt old habits and increase awareness of new ways of thinking. but then, i think words mean things and that the way we use words have a tremendous impact on the way we percieve and order our realities.
it's easier for people to fall back into older patterns of Christianity.
when i read the bible, i wonder about the realtionship between our gender and our soul. is there one? are women and men called to be so different from each other?
(yes, i believe that we are) but when is God addressing those differences on a soul, spirit level and when have we humans decided that God meant to address them on a 'women-keep-silence-in-the-church-submit- to-your-man-level?
i think that the use of gender-inclusive language helps us to consider those kinds of questions.
for me, as alluded to in above answers: i urge change in the way we speak to help us see in new ways.
this does not mean that because we see a new possiblity it is therefore correct. but i think it is important to fully weigh our beliefs while we sort through them. who knows what gems God has waiting for us when we dare trust him more than our own habits, traditions, beliefs?
Friday, April 01, 2005
ten years ago, this man would not have dreamed that he would become who he is today. and yet, the seeds were there way back then. the opportunity to confront his behavior and walk with him as he developed healthier behaviors were there, way back then.
our first failure was that first year when we deferred to his preference that we not hold a bible study without him.
then, we acquiesced to his demands for company. then, we stood silent when he was verbally abusive towards his wife.
we stood by when he was too brusque with neighborhood children who visited the congregation. we sat silently when he preached things counter to the congregation's general approach to faith matters.
we began running mild interference at home bible studies when he spoke unreasonably, uncharitably. when his behavior became too abusive we stopped attending bible studies. we did confront his behaviors a few times and saw positive results — but only for about six months.
we began speaking up in Sunday and Wednesday bible studies. then we made sure that we were helping elsewhere during bible studies, watching kids, helping in other classrooms, giving people rides to and from the church building.
finally, there was a last straw in the form of a too-close-to-lewd comment toward a three year old girl. i left, we left.
it will be one year April 11. the remaining congregation (others have left, too) can no longer ignore the obvious. they've overcome the fear of being called 'dissenters' and have talked to each other. shared stories. and learned that they should have talked to each other 10 years ago.
they should never have allowed one person to exercise the kind of control he did.
i struggle (some) with a feeling that we failed this man through our unwillingness to hold him accountable for his attitudes and behaviors. i also recognize, though, that this man's arrogance has played a big role in the road he has traveled.