Monday, October 24, 2011

The Hurting People We Never See

Last month I wrote about my friend's encounter with two busybody church ladies, and what happened when they literally backed into one another. One woman insisted the other was lying about the circumstances surrounding the parking lot fender bender, and was going to "tell Pastor Dave" about the deceiver.

My friend is an officer who, after more than 30 years, he has seen it all. But, it's the nasty trash talk that comes out of the mouths of so-called "Christians" that continues to dismay and confound him.

He worked a minor car accident the other day in which a truck driver was sideswiped by a passing vehicle while standing outside his truck. He's lucky his injuries were minor. Anyway, he was a large man, and he was missing a few teeth. These facts are important to the story.

My friend was taking the accident report from the visibly shaken man. When asked if there were any witnesses, he said his driving partner had seen the whole thing from his seat inside the stalled truck. Before speaking with the witness, the officer chatted a bit more with the victim, and he was struck by how kind he was. He wasn't angry with the driver who clipped him, but in fact he was concerned for the man's well being.

The officer complimented him on his gentle spirit and remarked at how calm he was. He said, "My partner is the angry, mouthy one. I find it easier to just relax and try to be a gentler person." He explained that the man who often accompanies him on long-distance trips could be a preacher because he knows the Bible so well. However, he always makes fun of people who are "fat" or "ugly".

As the sweet man nursed his wounded arm, he continued the conversation.

"My wife is overweight and she's very, very self-conscious. She is the kindest and most beautiful woman in the world - to me. However, she rarely leaves the house because of people like my friend over there."

The officer listened sympathetically.

"That man claims he's a Christian, but the words that come out of his mouth are cruel and ugly. It's hard for me to travel with him because I know it's because of guys like him that keep my wife from even going to church. He even makes fun of me sometimes." Apparently the guy tries to share the gospel, but his testimony is clearly overshadowed by his mean spirit.

My friend never did quite understand why the gentle, albeit scraggly, trucker had to share the cab of the eighteen-wheeler with the caustic Christian, but he felt his pain.

I don't care how much someone knows about the Bible. People don't care about how much you know; they need to know how much you care. 

Every time you're tempted to make a joke about someone's appearance, think about the "kindest and most beautiful woman in the world" who can't even leave her home because of people like you.

Now, get off the pew and be kind to someone today.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Christian Isolationism

I attended a church event last weekend with an unchurched friend. It's always interesting to see us through someone else's eyes, and I love hanging out with straight-talking non-believers. You know, we really can be an odd bunch of people.

We speak a unique language called "Christianese" and we sing songs about blood and bruises and blindness. Our concerns are not the same as the burdens of the world, and my friend had a difficult time understanding a few things.

A well-known Hollywood actor spoke at last weekend's event. At one point she opened the floor up to audience questions. The attendees wanted to know which actors were Christians and how to get their children involved in God-endorsed film projects.

This line of questioning greatly offended my friend. She couldn't quite understand how it is that we talk about being salt and light in the world, and yet work so hard to isolate ourselves from the very people who need the salt and light. 

She's got a good point.

I remember an old camp song called, "Pass It On". The song begins with the words, "It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing." We used to sing that song like we believed it. But do we?

We preach sermons, teach classes, write blog posts, and challenge our kids to take the light of Jesus into a dark world. And yet, we can be the biggest isolationists. So, it's okay to be an actor, but only if we work with other believing actors in Christian film projects? What about doctors, lawyers, teachers, singers, and garbage collectors? Are they expected to treat, defend, teach, entertain, and serve believers only?

We talk about being an ocean of love, but many of us feel safer on our own island of like-minded separatists.  

Yes, I love seeing us through the eyes of the unchurched. They challenge me to get off the pew of isolationism, and walk in the light of truth. Pass it on.

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Excuse Called Grace

"Christians use grace as a blanket under which to hide all their sins."


I've written on this topic before, but it keeps rearing its ugly head. Many non-believers don't see grace as a free gift from God, but rather an excuse Christians use to cover bad behavior. My conversation with an unchurched friend of mine reminded me that this view of grace is very common.

When I've broached this topic with believers I often get the same response - "Don't look to people, look to Jesus." I remind you that the lost are looking to us hoping to SEE Jesus!

I'm going to try to put this in terms we all understand. I know quite a few vegetarians. In fact, I grew up in a meat-free home. Imagine knowing your best friend is a vegetarian, but one day you go out to dinner and he orders a steak. A few days later, you have lunch and you're surprised to see him order a big, juicy burger with all the toppings.

Your friend still tells people he's a vegetarian, but you doubt his commitment–what with all the meat eating. So, you question your friend about his commitment to the lifestyle. He responds with something like this: "Don't look to me, look to the vegetarian philosophy for truth and enlightenment. I'm not perfect, just forgiven."

After watching your friend enjoy a few slabs of prime rib, you finally realize he's NOT a vegetarian. He might want to be. He may claim to be. But, he's not. Does that seem judgmental? Not at all. He talks the talk, but he doesn't walk the walk.

If you consistently gossip, cheat on your taxes, lie to your boss about being sick, judge others, harbor angry bitterness, refuse to forgive, or are filled with pride and think yourself better than others, you might not be a Christian. You might want to be. You may claim to be. But you might not be.

Grace is a gift that God offers you and me. It is an honor for us to show grace to someone else who might be going through a valley of trial or temptation. It is not an excuse we pull out of our back pocket for our unChrist-like antics. 

Like it or not, people are looking to us for hope. They want to see Jesus. I know we're not perfect and they know we're not perfect. When we mess up we need to 'fess up.

Get off the pew of excuses! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Mormon "Cult"

So, Pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas, Texas calls Mormonism a "cult". He has endorsed Governor Rick Perry as the Republican Presidential candidate because he's a conservative Christian, but warns believers against voting for candidate Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon.

Well, I'm not going to enter the "cult" debate. I'm well aware of the fact that many Christians agree with Pastor Jeffress. I'm more concerned about our bigotry.

During the election season of 1960, many Christian pastors and leaders warned the American voter against supporting John F. Kennedy. You see, he was a Catholic. America had never had a Catholic president. Many believed (and still believe) that The Pope was the antichrist.

President Kennedy was way before my time, but my study of American history tells me that the Christian fear mongering of that time is similar to what's happening today. I would hope that we would cast our vote based on an intelligent understanding of where a candidate stands on issues.

Look, the conservative Christian candidate is going to make judgment calls and cast votes based on his or her knowledge of the issue as seen through the prism of their Christian worldview. Likewise, the atheist, Buddhist, Mormon, Catholic, heathen, etc... will make personal and political choices that grow from their heart, beliefs, and personal worldview. We the voters must do our homework, find out where the candidate stands, and vote our conscience.

I know many Mormons. They are loving, concerned, generous, thoughtful, kind, and smart. I also know many Christians, atheists, Catholics, and heathens who are all those things. Once again, however, it's the Christian pastor who comes across as sounding judgmental and small-minded.

So, Pastor Jeffress, teach your congregation to walk as Jesus walked, love as Jesus loved, and vote as Jesus might have voted. Voting against Mr. Romney just because of his religion is not an informed vote–it's a bigoted vote.

Get off the pew of bigotry. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Clueless Cleric

Our children decided when they were teens that they wanted nothing to do with The Church. Pastors, parishioners, and pew sitters were judgmental hypocrites who would rather point fingers than build relationship.

That, sadly, was our church experience.

The other night I went to an event and sat at a table with a former nemesis – the pastor who decided I should be fired from my church job because I got involved with community theatre. Our kids were devastated when they watched the pastor's critical condemnations break my heart and spirit. I was angry at the time, not only because of how he treated me, but because his actions so profoundly and negatively affected our kids and their faith.

Despite the pain of the past, I'm always cautiously open to restoration. My former boss asked about the kids. I shared their comings and goings, including the fact that one of our kids is an atheist.

"You know," said the man, "one of our sons had doubts about his faith when he was fired from a church and treated so unfairly."

Now, at this point in the conversation I could have said, "Hmmmm....what a coincidence. You're the one whose actions caused my children to lose their faith." 

But I chose to listen.

He proceeded to tell me just a bit more about how hurt his son had been and how he again found his faith. I realized that he's clueless as to how his behavior affects people. He doesn't see himself in the actions of others.

I love the book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The book reveals the results of research that exposes how church outsiders see Christians, and how very clueless we are about how we are being perceived. I could've written that book a decade ago, and I don't need the Barna Group to give me research data. I've witnessed unimaginable hypocrisy first hand. According to the book and the data they collected, church leaders are woefully unaware of how their actions negatively impact both insiders and outsiders.

Get off the pew and look in the mirror. We are being watched, examined, hated, loved, emulated, and shunned. We're going to mess up, and when we do, we need to fess up. Being Jesus with skin on isn't easy, but it's who we ought to be.

Get off the pew!