Monday, June 14, 2010

Reason Number Eleven

Come into this scene with me: a loved one has died and the family wants a clergy person to guide them through the really tough time of loss and grief. We clergy who spend much of our life at the crossroads of death and life are often able to bring not only some comfort, but helpful perspective at these times. 

When the person who had died is unknown to me, I seek to learn the history and find the patterns of the life lived. I probe for the good and funny memories; I visualize a mental picture of this one whose voice will not be heard again, whose unique mannerisms are now a thing in the past, and whose secrets are gone. 

On occasion, somewhere along the line, this statement pops up, "He (or she) was a wonderful person, but not a church-goer because he/she didn't like church people much." And so I give you Excuse Number 11 of 15 I've heard for not attending worship: disliking the people who do choose to worship together.

One possible reaction to that statement: "I wonder if that person will find heaven to a be kind of hell then, because it will probably be pretty well populated with those very ones she/he disliked and avoided during this physical life." But that is a flippant response for a serious situation. 

First, what has happened that gave church people such a bad reputation? I wrote some about that earlier and will expand on it later but now I'm also pondering a troubling second issue: the hopelessness of the situation. The power of decision-making for a vital life experience has been placed in the hands of others. As a result, the individual has lost much of his or her humanity.

Hang with me for a minute on this while I sort out that last statement. By refusing the necessary action of soul and moral development found in the regular discipline of God-centered worship and instruction, a human will never reach his or her full potential. This loss is a loss for all of humanity. The loss takes place when "church people" are so disliked because . . . and here I get stuck. Whoever these church people are, and there must be many of them, they have been handed the power of life and death in ways they never wanted. Instead, they suddenly responsible for what are actually individual decisions for people they do not know.

I'm having trouble getting this down on paper, so let me try again. I won't do what is good and holy and necessary and joyful for me to do because . . . I don't like someone else, so it is really their fault because I don't find them likable. 

I'm taking a deep breath here--those who heard my message last Sunday know what I'm taking about--that sign of exasperation. 

What does liking someone else have to do with this anyway? Gathering with people we may or may not like in order to experience something far beyond those petty likes and dislikes brings vibrant life to expanded souls. Consider what it means, for example, to receive the sacrament from the hands of someone whom you don't care for--and who might not find you their favorite person either. This transcendent moment shows what the love of God is all about--that reconciling love that invites us to be more human . . . not less human. More in the image of God, not less, not shut down, not trapped by human dislikes that bind us in unforgiving chains of blame.

By willingly and with open hearts entering the presence of those for whom we hold some antipathy, we discover what Jesus meant when he said he came to set the captive free. Fetters are loosed, we leap with light spirits, and give space for true Light to enter.


Angie Hammond said...

OK, I am having a problem understanding exactly what you are saying in this post. I see the reason as they don't like church people. But you lost me with the rest of the story.
My vision of a person who doesn't like church people is that they don't like what the church is asking them to do or they have had the experience of being told they were doing something wrong and they didn't like that. Some church people are like that and do confront and in a word run others off with this kind of finger pointing. Take for instance a church member who takes another aside one Sunday morning and says to the person " We don't wear blue jeans to this church on Sunday mornings" OK maybe they don't wear blue jeans to church on Sunday, but there is no rule that says you can't wear jeans. So what does the other person do? He or she could and most likely would stop coming to that church or any church because of how they were being told to dress.

Thus they don't like the church people. So is it more they don't like the people or is it more what they do different that the church people don't do and or don't like?

Either way both parties miss out on worshipping together. The one that doesn't fit may wind up never going to another church and using your reason number 11.

So are you saying that in every church there are people that don't like one another but can worship together? If so, I agree here, but this works only if they have the same belief system. We can love one another but not really like a person if you understand what I mean here.

Don't have a clue if I got the gist of your post, but this is my take on what you were trying to say.

If you can expand on it further that would be wonderful.


I know an older couple who hesitates to go to their church because the husband feels inferior financially to the other members. His wife longs to go and feel supported by more than just the walls of her own home, but must often do without the fellowship of worship so she can stay home with her husband.

Meanwhile, the other members of the church are gracious in their calling to check on the couple, concerned about their health, inviting them to "game night" and being as loving as one might expect true Christians to be. Never once has the question of money come up, whether there is tithing going on or anything of the sort.

It occurs to me that this situation relates well to Reason number 11. Oh, but they're all rich and we're not. Can't relate to them. They're probably snobs. This couple is placing labels and attributions on people that don't even know they're being labeled and used as an excuse for this couple to not thank the Lord that such good, god-seeking people exist and show the desire for the couple to be a part of worship with them. And even if they did happen to be snooty, the COUPLE has a responsibility as well, to show their love and concern to the others, to be an integral part of making the worship experience warm and accepting for the congregation, for EVERYONE.

People tend to be REACTIVE rather than PROACTIVE, letting others dictate to them what they will or won't do, will or won't FEEL. Let's get real, here. People are imperfect, human, prone to negativity, gossip, selfishness, pettiness. All of them are. Not just the people who happen to go to the church you would go to if only everyone was a saint. Let's get even more real. People are also prone to being good, loving, kind, generous, and authentically challenged to do the best they can when they can just but figure out what that best might be.

So attend church because you want to worship the Lord, not dodge accusing stares from everyone sitting around you who might be shooting poison darts your way. Carve yourself a place, then work to be one of those whose lives can help make the worship place a gift to everyone who comes through the church doors.

Reason Number 11 makes all kind of sense to me. I've seen it in action, and it is one of the saddest, most regrettable reason of all.