Deeper Hope:

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A Long Way to My Place

Sometimes just getting to my regular seat at church is a pain in the--well, it’s a pain. There are so many people I’d like to avoid. I love the church, but I don’t like the people in the church. Welcome to the True Confessions edition of Students of Jesus.

My usual seat is on the far side of the auditorium and there’s no way to it other than by passing by people I’d rather not talk to. Walk with me.

There’s The Gullible Guy: He’s never seen a Facebook post he didn’t believe, and he means to tell me about every one. There’s a secret government campaign to confiscate Bibles in America; there’s a new prophecy about Israel and the 2012 Euro Football tournament; Sesame Street is the Devil’s playground. If I try to point out the problems with each one of these revelations it will mean I’m part of the conspiracy. Plus I’ll miss the entire praise and worship portion of church. I move on.

Just a few feet away is The Blowhard: He’s memorized the entire book of Malachi. He chose Malachi because “Christians don’t understand that the Old Testament is the key to the New Testament.” When it comes to orthodoxy, it’s his way or the highway to Hell. He snags my arm because he read something on my blog that caused him to think I might be a Neo-Platonist Arminian Sycretizer. At least, that’s what I think he said because the band is into their second song and I still haven’t gotten to my seat. Plus my coffee’s getting cold.

I swing wide to avoid Miss LonelyHearts. Otherwise she’ll hug me and hold both my hands while she asks me about every member of my family. Some people say she’s just really empathetic, but it seems each question is more about prolonging the conversation than it is about whether my son’s team won their age-group community league soccer game. She seems nice enough, but I resist her brand of empathy because I suspect it’s really more about her than it is about me.

The path to my seat requires that I swing wide around The Flag Lady, who worships with her own set of color-coded worship banners: red for sacrifice, purple for royalty, and that gold one that always makes me think of the New Orleans Saints. I steer past The Prostrate-n-Kneeling Crew, who always seem to be deeply touched by every song. But my seat is in sight.

I still can’t sit down yet because The Homeschool Family is running a ferry service in and out of the aisle with their six children, all of whom have names that end in “-iah.” This is confusing because they all look identical as well. If I have to say their names, I usually cough when pronouncing the first syllable and then say the one syllable I know.

When I finally get to my seat, I find it’s taken. There’s a New Guy, about 30, long brown hair, dark eyes, and a beard. He’s just a little too old for the sandals and T-shirt look, but he apparently thinks he can pull it off. Church is crowded today, so I don’t even get the one-seat buffer that common courtesy demands. I nod toward the new guy, using my best Alpha-male look and take my place next to him. I’m finally ready to worship but the presence of the New Guy kind of cramps my style. I steal a look his way. I think he’s into the worship. He’s not super demonstrative but he’s grooving on the music in his own way.

At our church the band circles around for a soft landing by the end of the third song, but they keep playing quietly in the background as someone steps forward to present a scripture-reading. They throttle back and settle in with the mood music. The reader opens the Bible and raises the microphone to his mouth:

"In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.  Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters."

I look to my left at the new guy and something strange is happening. His hair seems even longer. The T-shirt has morphed into some kind of robe with a golden sash, and--I swear to God--he’s beginning to glow.

After he listens to this passage he leans toward me and says: “I love you, Brother. I’ve loved you through each stage of your life, including the rebellious stage, the doubting stage, the porn stage, the video-game stage, and the greedy stage. I’m not ashamed to call you my brother.” Then he gestured to everyone in the room and asked me “If I am not ashamed of you, why then, are you ashamed to call these people your family?”

Reader Comments (9)

I, no really, would go to any church, any where, if and when called. I've been, recently, and for a very long time it seems in the desert, relative to involved church community relationships.

You know what I miss most?

No wait; first, you know what I miss least? I don't miss the board meetings, administering the sacraments or any position of authority that I have been responsible to. In fact, those responsibilities have allowed me to relish and savor the desert.

Now, you know what I miss most? I miss, especially in a church of conservative propriety, extending my arm to the woman in the family waiting to be ushered to their seats and she takes it. I miss, so much, having sincere heartfelt, (unfortunately sometimes) loud and heated discussions in an adult Sabbath school class ... and the call to worship bell rings … and those most involved adversaries in the heat of the moment shake hands, hug and walk arm and arm into the peace of sanctuary. I miss the work parties. I miss the “gullible guy”, the “blow hard”, “miss lonely heart”, “the flag lady”, the “prostrate and kneeling crew”, the “home school family” and so many more just like me and mine that I have fought so very hard for in the board meetings that they remain in the Lord’s house we administer.

You know what I don’t miss that makes this desert a joy? I don’t miss “the New Guy”. He and I have never been closer and I have never been more fulfilled and at peace. He is showing me how to help tend His garden to feed those who are starving because they can only see this desert as desolate simply because they don’t know to even look for Him. My cup is overflowing and yet I still sorely miss my place in the imperfect church … I know the degree of grief in the loss of a relationship is the meter of how much I valued that relationship and this grief is truly painful (but no more than The Cross must have been).

I trust that the New Guy will lead me back into the fold when the time is right … or not … His choice. Should I be so fortunate I am prepared to spend an eternity trusting the New Guy to lead me to the next oasis as I pray are also those I definitely don’t want to avoid on the way to my seat on His arm. Herm

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

First of all, do you *really* have a regular seat at church??

More importantly, I love these caricatures you've drawn. The Blowhard really made me laugh:

"...he read something on my blog that caused him to think I might be a Neo-Platonist Arminian Sycretizer."

And, as usual, you've made me think. Thanks.

Kristin: Well, I did have a regular seat when I was the pastor. Now we arrive so late we just sit anywhere we can. And I suppose laughter is as good a response to Blowhards as anything else.

Herm: I'm so pleased to hear you're on good terms with the New Guy. I understand he's willing to hang out with people just about anywhere.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Anyone, any time and anywhere equally with all according to:

Matt 5:8
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

This includes, but is not even closely limited to, within all churches of any religion. Even without any false humility I know am no more special than any other. This is more than okay with me because the nurture I am receiving and the just plain fun I am having in relationship with the New Guy, the I Am, the Word, the Son of God I can share in when adopted, the Son of man of which I am one by blood also, the Savior, the Messiah, the Judge, the High Priest and most importantly to me my truly Divine Friend is infinite in its limits. I can only witness to others a small portion of my relationship with the New Guy because my cup overwhelmingly runs over and I have no need to judge or room to value another’s relationship with God.

It is clear to me according to the picture I have in my heart and mind that there are many, many pure in heart (albeit infantile with each having an eternity’s worth of imperfections to overcome along with the promise of that eternity available) and many of those have responded on this blog. Thank you for sharing your relationship, this space and your pure heart with us. Maybe, just maybe we can learn from each other how to better reach those ignorant and yet receptive to see God. Like Ed is learning and sharing from his garden. Herm

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

Good post. I don't seem to have problems with the diversity of "types" in church, as far as I can see myself; which I acknowledge may not be a complete and correct sense of sight. Just the lack of tolerance in leadership for people who are "diverse" -- including myself.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

Hi Charles: Tolerance is good. Love--I'm sure you'd agree--is even better. Peace to you!

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

this is wonderful. you really cut to the heart of it, don't you?

Thank you, Suzannah. If I did cut to the heart it's only because I heard my Lord speak those very words to me a while back.

June 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Wow...this is incredible.
Looks like the Kingdom to me.

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeanna

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