Thursday, September 29, 2011

Relying On The Kindness of Strangers

Several of my friends are looking for work. Many more are underemployed.

These are tough financial times, and more than ever we need one another. In the Tennessee Williams play, "A Streetcar Named Desire" a fading but still attractive Blanche Dubois explains how she survives when she says, "I always depended on the kindness of strangers."

My friend "John" was laid off from the job he loved a little over three years ago. He was asked to appear on stage at his church in a presentation of "cardboard testimonies". I think most of us have seen these displays. The choir sings an appropriately emotionally manipulative song such as "Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone" and people appear on stage holding a large cardboard sign. On one side is written a confession or need, and on the other side - words of hope.

The pastor of John's mega-church asked him to participate in Cardboard-Sunday just a few weeks after he became unemployed. The words, "I just lost my job" were written on one side, and "Trusting God" on the other. He, along with more than twenty transparent and hopeful parishioners used simple words to share their heart with a congregation of more than 5,000 that day.

Two weeks later John had lunch with his friend Mark. Mark had to know, "So, did you get a lot of job offers after Cardboard-Sunday?" "You know," John replied, "not even one."

I was surprised by that fact. Five thousand people–brothers and sister in the faith–and not one single person could offer a job lead? Literally hundreds of the city's leaders, business owners, and movers and shakers claim this particular church as their own. I know many of them were sitting in the pews that day.

There was a time when the church rallied to help their own in times of need. Then the government began offering welfare and food stamps to help the poor and indigent. The Church threw up their hands and seemed to say, "Whew! Helping the needy is no longer our job."

Blanche Dubois relied on the kindness of strangers. I wonder if The Church had failed her.

It's been three years since John poured his heart out onto a large chunk of cardboard. His family still struggles as John continues to look for work. Life is further complicated by health problems, broken cars, and leaky house pipes they can't afford to repair.

I believe that if a need has made its way into my circle of knowledge and influence, then I'm supposed to respond. I can ask around, spread the word, donate a little money here and there, send a card of encouragement, pray, pray, and pray.

Get off the pew, look around, really see the needs in your circle of knowledge and influence, and then respond. Get off the pew!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Truth In The Text

I received the following text message from my friend, who happens to be a highway patrol officer:
  • I have decided that a lot of church people are the meanest people I know.  I worked this crash at $#@%&* Church where two woman backed out of a stall and hit each other. One woman just informed me she is going to tell "Pastor Dave" about this, because the other woman is lying, etc. I'm like REALLY!!?? Geez! All this woman wants to do is trash this other woman, and it's a tiny fender bender! Both at fault. I told her I based my conclusion on the physical evidence and HER statement too!
My officer friend is a very spiritual person, but wants nothing to do with church. Guess what, that strong opinion still holds–and with good reason. The text message continues:
  • I told her it's a small little accident and there is no need for this to escalate. Oh no, not good enough! Now it's going to be a full blown church fight. 
My friend is very aware of the abuse my family has suffered at the hands of so-called Christians. I want to believe that our story is not the norm, but evidence continues to point to so much deep-seated arrogance and dysfunction among believers. My friend's text goes on:
  • So, it all reminded me of all that crap with you and your church and I felt like I wanted to just hug U....and kick this mean woman. She is just a shit stirrer. It's like junior high. I mean, this grown woman is running to the pastor like a child when it doesn't even involve the church.  She just wants to hurt the other woman.
Once again...Christians have the opportunity to model who Jesus is for the unchurched, and we blow it. The patrol officer nailed it. So many problems are caused when immature Christians run to pastors to fix problems that should be resolved solely by the two people involved.

My friend's final observation:
  • It's no wonder pastors get big heads when their members run to them like kids every time someone looks at them sideways.
Ouch. Get off the pew. Resolve a conflict, restore a relationship, and renew your commitment to be Jesus with skin on. And next time you're involved in a little game of bumper cars out there on the road, remember that you might've just been given the opportunity to witness to the investigating officer. What a privilege.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

When Pastors Choose Our Friends

Is it ever okay for a pastor to tell a parishioner who said parishioner can and cannot have as a friend?

An acquaintance of mine was in the middle of a casual conversation with her pastor the other day, when he told her that he would rather she not be friends with someone. She became understandably defensive.

“Are you really telling me with whom I can be friends?”

“I’m just telling you to be careful.” He went on to explain how the person in question was an inferior Christian and therefore – inferior friend material.

Jesus modeled for us the example of how to be friends with people we “ought not” be friends with. Jesus was totally politically incorrect when he approached the Samaritan woman at the well. He talked with her, encouraged her, challenged her, and then sent her off to become the first evangelist.

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” John 4:39

When we stand in the way of friendships, we reveal our own insecurities, judgmental heart, critical spirit, and phobias. So many pastors have become arrogant and prideful. They seem to truly believe they and they alone know how to make right and good choices. 

The number of pastor/teachers who seem to believe it’s their God-given right to literally direct every aspect of the believer’s life shouldn’t surprise me. I see it all the time.

Get off the pew and go make an unlikely friend today. Go. Go!