I was talking with a friend recently, the kind that, even though we don't get to do daily life together as we had in the past, we just pick up where we left off. I hope you have those kinds of friendships, too, where the love runs deep and there isn't performance pressure. Anyway, we caught up on day to day life and then dug deeper finding out how siblings and parents were fairing. And not just for knowledge sake. We dug deeper because we knew in sharing that prayers would be said for our loved ones.
My heart got sick when my friend shared about a sibling of hers...how this particular sibling who had considered himself a Christian the majority of his life was now disenchanted not only with American Christianity, but even Jesus.
I get the part about American Christianity/Religion...but Jesus?!
Makes me want to cut off that siblings ear. Not because I think that sibling sucks or even that Jesus needs defending. He's a Big Boy. He can handle people, His people, His beloved, wrestling with Him. I just think it's a total load of crap, a complete cop-out, a lazy-pursuit or lack thereof, to throw away Jesus with the bathwater just because the world is filled with really flaky people called humans who hurt other peoples feelings and misrepresent God on a daily basis.
I hurt people's feelings and make mistakes and misrepresent God all the time...I'm not boasting. I'm not proud of it. But God doesn't tuck nicely into a little box, building or religious set of rules. I don't mean to hurt others. I really am sorry!
But, BUT, BUT...that doesn't change God's character or His love for us. Our flakiness doesn't change God at all. Just because I am a jerk doesn't mean God is. God has always been the same, He has never changed. God is love. He is love. He is the very definition.
But I do share the depth of heart, love, and intimacy for Christ that the disciple who did the ear cutting did. Plus, I have 2000 years of experiential learning on that guy. Not that I'm that old, of course, sheesh, I'm only pushing 40, but countless stories of life transformation have occurred between today and that ear-cutting. I have gotten to actually read and re-read the part where Jesus said, "No more of this!" and then reached out and healed the man's ear. The very man who was just doing the grunt work of his "higher ups." He had no clue Who he was seizing...and the ear-cutter, well, he was just really zealous. I mean, who wouldn't be if your bff was Jesus?!
No, the ear-cutting disciple couldn't hear The Message or read the NIV translation. He was there, in the moment breathing the same O2 as Jesus, and the thought of his Innocent Friend being seized for ridiculous political and religious reasons was absurd enough for him to do some ear-chopping, though I'm sure he meant to do a bit more damage than that.
I don't REALLY want to cut off my friend's brother's ear. Rather, I'd love to turn it back to God's Spirit, turn it back to what he knew, or even turn his ears toward Jesus alone, without the pomp and pageantry, without all the gray noise...Just Jesus. Maybe the Jesus he never had the chance to know amidst the crisp, clean rules and regulations of religiosity, aka, modern Pharisee.
We all have stories. Some could say that they gave up on the Church because they were abused emotionally, physically, sexually or another way by a trusted leader, even a parent. Others could say they gave up on the Church because they were abused financially or theologically. Your story might be that you experienced significant loss, illness, need, or were simply seeking friendship or comfort and encouragement and the Church totally dropped the ball in your darkest hour and those you found faithful were work companions, neighbors, and the atheists on the corner.
I understand the disappointment. I honestly do. I've faced more on this earth than I ever wanted to...and it's all since meeting Jesus. But I wouldn't change it...
Here's a snippet of my colorful church experience: I grew up in the Catholic church until I was confirmed at the end of 9th grade. I learned as a child that God loves me and that Jesus died for me. I found out years later that one of the priests was friendly with some of the altar boys. Do I hate Catholics? No. From there, my family went to a little church, non-denominational, where we continued to learn more about God's love for us but began actually reading the Bible ourselves. We then moved for a job and later found out that the pastor and the church secretary at our old church (where we first fell in love with God's word) were having sex up on the altar while just next door they ran a school, where my sister attended. Do I hate church secretaries? No. For a year we visited several different churches, then moved back to our old city where we found a new church. This one was bonus, man. It all seemed to start out just fine, nicely balanced, but it was the late 80's, early 90's and it was Scottsdale, so money was muy importante. (That's Spanish for a big deal.) And, if it helps you understand the scene and why some have sought "spirituality" elsewhere, well, Katy Perry, as a little kid, and her family were very much involved in my church. *(I know, right?! I could have chucked the whole scene and been a millionaire singer...except I can't sing...)
Anyway, long story short, I headed off to college before it got ugly, but my folks were asked to leave the church because they didn't want to support the "financial" pursuit the pastor and another guy had for the congregation. Let's just say Uncle Sam didn't appreciate the financial pursuit of the church, either, and one guy did some time for robbing widows and orphans, and other people. Do I hate money, or even "offering" time? No. Fast forward... after I had served at a church for 2.5 years as head of their women's ministry, Noah was born and got sick. During his 5.5 month stay at the hospital, a couple of staff from that church visited the first week. We heard from the pastor via letter after Noah died. I never knew anyone from that church, besides personal friends, were standing by us during that time in our lives until a few of them showed up at Noah's funeral. A funeral at a different church that did step in and support us. Do I hate that other church's guts? No...but I don't go there anymore.
I forgive. I don't carry offense. I move on. I walk away. Because early on, in college, actually, during a mandatory "revival" I sat down and had a heart to heart with God. I cried out, "God, please help me to know You in spite of all this. I KNOW You are true! Please help me remember what You want me to remember and forget the rest!"
It hasn't been perfect. It hasn't been smooth. But throwing Jesus out with the bathwater...I'd venture to say that those who can easily do that never actually encountered the personal, redeeming Christ...or were never told it was okay to wrestle with Him, to confess disappointment, disenchantment.
No, I'm pretty sure they only met His flaky followers. And that really stinks, because one, there will always be flaky followers, and TWO, Jesus is the Surest thing in the Universe...the biggest un-flake that ever existed!
I have more thoughts on this, as well as some opinions on faith and "East meets West" but this is already a novel...so, until next time...