Entries in forgiveness (7)
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?”
Part of his true beauty is that Jesus loves the unlovely.
I’m drawn to him because he not only cleansed the lepers: he reached out his hand touched them even when everyone else demanded that they shout “Unclean!” He not only healed their skin, he received them kindly. I want that kind of heart.
When the male-dominated leaders of the day singled out a woman “caught in adultery,” (where was the other half of the adulterous duo?) Jesus did not condemn. Instead he challenged the very accusers with the now-famous words, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” My heart is moved by mercy mixed with justice. I love him for speaking those words. I even love him for saying raising the woman to her feet and saying, “Go and sin no more” because it was the best thing for her.
I love Jesus because he reminded a synagogue filled with people bent on perfection that a bent-over old woman was also a daughter of Abraham. I love him because when Jesus dined with Zacchaeus it meant that he brought salvation to the house of a tax collector. I love him because a woman previously infested with seven demons was the very one he chose to first deliver the good news, “He is risen.”
Time and again Jesus demonstrated what he taught: mercy triumphs over judgment. I want to be like that.
Jesus taught me to to love the unlovely.
And because he taught me to love the unlovely, I love his bride: the church.
Shouldn’t we all?
|Poor, sickly Heinrich Heine|
- I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; (Ezekiel 36:26)
- “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)
- Wait! There are too many examples to cite. You can trust me on this.
From May, 2010: Beautiful People?
This weekend I read a touching and transparent blog post by Jon Reid called “Repentance.” Jon details attending a leadership retreat for his church, The Journey, located in San Jose, California. I’ve never been to The Journey, but I can assure you it’s a church capable of making big-time mistakes: mistakes in representing the Lord Jesus, the gospel, or mistakes that would certainly provide good reason for those who are wounded to hold enmity against the people in leadership. I know this because The Journey is staffed by people, and people can be a real pain in the . . . well, you know.
Jon mentions his own history of frustration and pain, disagreement and ambivalence (even now) toward The Journey, yet found himself in close and apparently revealing quarters with the church’s leadership team. Jon found them to be “beautiful people,” even though clearly he has been at odds with some of them. And this impressed me.
I wondered if I had ever referred to those who had hurt me as “beautiful people.” I’ve certainly been willing to give others the benefit of a doubt, but also reserved the right to consider them misguided, selfish, clueless, or even wicked. I’m not sure “Beautiful” has ever made it into my list of adjectives. Perhaps they could become beautiful if they would just see things correctly (and I’d be glad to enlighten them on that account).
So this meditation is an invitation to us all. Without excusing selfish and sinful behavior for even a moment, I believe we have to acknowledge Jesus himself chose to “staff” churches with . . . people. And people can be a real pain in the--well, you know. In my frustration I’ve frequently turned to Colossians 3: 12-14. Perhaps it will hold some meaning for you, too:
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."Either Jesus miscalculated, or part of our own personal spiritual formation depends upon practicing these words. Admiring these words is not enough: the life of God is found in the act of living them out. But where? Then I think to myself, “where else can I put these words into practice--other than my family and my church?” I never seem to come up with a better answer than either of those two places. Blessings abundant to you, Jon, and to all of us on our journey.