Yesterday, at the absurd hour of 8am (which means 7am for us since we are about 40 mins away, gotta love country living), I was having coffee with a relatively new friend of mine while our daughters had their gymnastics team practice. I was excited to go and do this because I’m pretty sure that this girl and I would be good friends if we didn’t live so far apart and I am very picky with my friends! She took me to this cool little coffee shop that turned out to be one I had wanted to go in for a long time, and we chatted for about 2 hours. It was nice to have some real “adult” time, even if it did need to be fueled by large cups of coffee. I enjoyed the conversation and walked away hoping we would do it again. Maybe next time we can let the girls come too…. Maybe not.
As most adult conversations in the south do, we eventually broached the subject of church. My friend is one of my faithful followers who does my monthly bible studies and reads my nonsense on here. She knew a little bit about me already and I thought I knew more about her than I actually did. She is a fellow homeschooling mama and uses Classical Conversations like we do. She actually opened a campus in that area that we considered joining. She is down to earth and seems to live in the real world. She has one of my favorite qualities in a person and a requirement in a friend. She doesn’t judge. Now we all silently judge (in our heads) but it’s all about how you let it out. Do you show discomfort or uneasiness with your actions and words? Do you act offended or feel the need to preach a sermon to prove your point? To me, all of those things are tell-tale signs for whether you have a truly saved spirit. Of course, that’s not an end all be all standard but it is usually pretty spot on. My soul relaxes around people like this. I feel the genuine intentions of that person and I allow my guard down a little.
I learned that she came from a different background than I thought. She came from a good old-fashioned Baptist family and was, of course, a deacon’s daughter. She, much like everyone else here, has grown up in a very sheltered culture where you don’t do things because you are scared of them, not because they are necessarily wrong. She also attends a Presbyterian church which was a little bit of a shock being that they have so many traditions and rules and the Baptist tend to violently run away from actual rules (don’t get this confused with making their own rules, they stick to them like glue on my kitchen table. Mostly sticky but random spots of clarity. My children’s art skills amaze me.) For her non-judgemental spirit, I was surprised to hear she felt most comfortable there. It was encouraging. As someone with OCD tendencies and an intensely fueled Jersey-Italian background, I relish in traditions… as long as there aren’t too many of them and they don’t come around all that often. Ha. I think there is some comfort is knowing that you will do the same thing each time out of respect. Not out of zombie-like reaction, but because you actually do have respect for said thing. I have been here so long now that I think the whole “rituals and traditions are bad” complex is starting to stick in my psyche.
This past Easter time we went to a Passover Seder at one our friend’s/Sunday School classes members, houses. I have sat at many a Passover Seders and honestly, was not looking forward to this one. I was a bit curious, though. Jewish people did things a certain way (if you aren’t aware, I come from a Jewish/Catholic family near Princeton, New Jersey) and most of my memories of these events were torturous. They were long and filled with woe. For Jewish people, the Holiday of Passover is all about reliving the events from when the Jews were imprisoned by Pharoah in Egypt and the 10 plagues. It takes forever to re-tell the story and to get to the eating part. Everyone’s sad and uncomfortable. (Then we hide the matzoh and some lucky kid wins the $$ while the other’s stew in their discontent.) Needless to say, this was something I wasn’t looking forward to sitting through again, let alone trying to convince the kids not to pick their nose and throw it at each other over the china on the table. To my surprise, it wasn’t like that at all. We did a speed reading of the Hagaddah and my own child even volunteered to ask the 4 questions. Something I often did as a child. It was comforting to see some of the traditions I had gone through, she was going through as well. People asked questions and genuinely wanted to understand what was going on. It was totally different from what I was used to, in a good way of course. This is why I love my church. All ages of people, kids, and no kids, all ready to learn about life outside of their church bubble. My “new” friend was exactly the same way. She respected the traditions but didn’t let the church change her. More than likely, she was changing the church.
God is love. (1 John 4:8) right? If we don’t have love then we don’t know God. It doesn’t say, God is tolerance (although he clearly is). Love and tolerance are not the same things. Love means you don’t see the outside of a person, only the inside. Love means that you are actually invested in someone else’s wellbeing. Not just what you can help them with and move on. It means everyone is not going to look like you or act like you. It means that you still love the tattooed, boobs hanging out of her shirt, stressed out looking mom who sits on the back row each week. Invite her to sit with you, please. God has given her the courage to keep coming and all the while you are standing in the row in front of her, week after week, and letting her slip further down in her seat. I don’t get it. It eats me up inside. I literally feel enraged when I see this happening, and I see it happening all the time. I try hard to go into other churches and see the good intentions, I really do. I am keenly aware that my sourness towards this issue can cause me to unduly judge. I believe in my heart that Jesus meant for us to truly love all and if that is a Gospel Truth, then it means it will be carried out in houses of God. It means that I need to genuinely love even the people who should know better.
Tolerance, on the other hand, is acceptance. It means that you know there is no other choice at the present time, so you clench your teeth, grin and bear it. Your heart doesn’t change and your thoughts for that person are rooted out of resentment. You are not loving anyone. You are bottling up frustration and it will eventually explode. I know, I speak from experience. You can not use the word “tolerate” and “Love Like God” in the same sentence. Imagine if God only tolerated you. You would be miserable and certainly damned to spend eternity with Lucifer. I am glad for His LOVE and His tolerance is a bonus.
Our old pastor, and amazingly dear friend, hit the nail right on the head, love is a choice. You must choose to look at the word through the eyes of someone who only sees their heart and intentions, not their clothing or their choices in life. As I have said before, on of my strongest spiritual gifts is mercy. I hurt for their hurt and I care about helping them feel like a whole person again. I care about their perception of who Jesus is. I want to give them all I have because they ae just starting and are incredibly confused and uncomfortable. I want to make them feel at home so that they can finally see that who they are is not a bad thing and what they need to fill that hole is Jesus. This is not everyone’s intention. I have encountered all too many times, the Christian who can’t get past their uncomfortable feeling they have with the unfamiliar, to welcome the new couple at church.These people look different from them, come from somewhere different and even listen to secular music on the way to church. They are inappropriately dressed, don’t go to Sunday School and sometimes they are a different color than you. These well-meaning church goes are by no means Nazi’s they are just unsure what it looks like to love the ones that are different from they are because they aren’t taught. No example is being set. They are allowed to get away with this behavior and I can not understand that. Jesus would never have tolerated that in His presence.
So what do I think needs to be done? Burn down all of the churches and start over! (just kidding) I do think it needs to be addressed. The behavior shouldn’t be tolerated. It gets me right in the heart every time a “churched” person gets aways with something ignorant because ‘they just don’t know any better’ or ‘they didn’t mean it that way.’ I am pretty sure that the bible, that the same book these churched people follow, says something about knowing what to do and not doing it is actually a sin. (James 4:17- So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.) That isn’t just about you, that is about your witness to others as well! I expect my friends to call me on my wrong-doings and I intend to do the same! I guess the hypocrisy of it all just gets to me. I don’t have the patience to “church the churched” people when there is so many others who don’t know Jesus at all.
That friend, that I had coffee with, who goes to a super traditional church and grew up in the common southern ‘Baptist culture,’ said something yesterday that made my heart glad. She told me that even though they were so very different from the other people in their church (for the most part), this the place they feel the most accepted for who they are. THAT’S what church should look like. It isn’t about how many homeless people you feed or drug addicts you have come to church. It’s about what your church is doing to LOVE the community it finds itself in. Traditional, modern, pews, folding chairs, cathedral or warehouse, it doesn’t matter. Everyone needs to find a place and that place looks different to all of us. It isn’t about the place, it’s about the people, the actions, the hearts.
Let me say this one last thing. Please hear me say this, I do not mean to put down Baptist people as a whole. I am referring to the southern culture. I consider myself a Baptist (with a little sprinkle of Pentecostal). I believe in the bible. I believe that you set guidelines and rules based on the words in that book, not based on what you think they mean. I believe that God CAN and sometimes does use the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues and spontaneous healing. I believe the bible is clear about when that is happening and when it is not. I believe that it’s OK to dance in worship, to wear jeans to Sunday morning service and to miss a Sunday here and there in our culture. God doesn’t need us at church being resentful and half asleep. I don’t feel guilty about not attending Wednesday night’s anymore or parking my behind at the church to lead all of the events and classes I possibly can. It took me a while to be ok with this but I am. I realized that we have integrated Jesus in our entire day. We have focused time of worship, lecture and discussion every Wednesday morning at our CBS class. We study the bible at home, together almost on a daily basis. All of this being said, I would still consider myself a Baptist. Maybe not a southern one, but a Baptist non-the-less.
I CHALLENGE YOU – pray today. Pray to have eyes that see what God sees. Ears that hear what He hears. and a heart that breaks for others around you. BEFORE YOU BEGIN TO LOVE ANYONE, you need to have these three things. Without them, you are ineffective.