More Changes, Part 3: Personal Responsibility

One of my oldest friends posted a comment on yesterday’s post about how God created men and women in his own image, complete with the ability to think and feel and reason, and yet when we use these abilities to make important life-defining decisions people tell us that we aren’t listening to God.

His comment made me realize that I have a lot to say on that subject. It’s not the topic I’d intended for today’s post, but the other stuff can wait.

It was actually something that someone on the worship team said recently that first got me thinking about this. They were about to sing “Rescue,” and he mentioned that a lot of times he doesn’t “feel like” doing the right thing, and in moments like that he relies on God to change his heart and “rescue” him from being unforgiving or selfish or whatever.

It was another one of those flashes of clarity for me.

I’m not trying to be antagonistic or hostile when I point out that A LOT of good Christians won’t have anything to do with organized religion because they feel that the churches are full of hypocrites. It’s not hard to see why they feel that way, but I truly believe that the majority of church people honestly do not see themselves as hypocrites, even when to any non-churchy observer their behavior bears no resemblance to their proclaimed beliefs. It’s like they’re somehow blind to their own duplicity.

As an unofficial student of humanity, this was a mystery I really wanted to solve. Worship-Team-Guy’s comments helped with that. So, here are my conclusions on the matter.

I believe that church people (I think I’ll just call them CP’s) believe that if God meant for them to feel compassion (or forgiveness or tolerance or whatever) in any given circumstance, that He would put that feeling into their hearts so that they could behave accordingly. If a difficult situation arises and what they feel is resentment and a desire to punish someone…well then obviously God must have put those feelings into their heart, since they walk so closely with Him and all. The person/people who caused the resentful feelings must be Wrong and Bad, and it’s just doing God’s work to punish them. If an uncertain situation comes up and the CP feels threatened by something unfamiliar to them, then obviously God MADE them feel threatened because that unfamiliar thing is A Threat and must be destroyed. Just doing the work of Jesus. If circumstances are changing and the CP liked things the way they were before, then God must be telling them that the changes are Wrong and Bad and have to be stopped by any means, up to and including manipulation, deceit and sabotage. It’s GOD’S WORK, people.

This is, of course, a big steaming pile of what cattle leave behind.

Jesus was pretty clear on how we’re supposed to to treat one another. And those 10 Commandments seem pretty clearly defined too. Nowhere in my Bible have I read, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor…unless you’re pretty sure he’s no friend of thine or Mine.”

Christian love isn’t something you “have.” It’s something you DO. It’s a choice you make every day, ESPECIALLY in the difficult situations when your heart is full of resentment at some injustice and you have to decide, right there in the middle of your anger, between grace or vengeance. That’s why they’re CALLED trials. It wouldn’t be much of a test if the Holy Spirit just swooped down and made you FEEL like doing the right thing, would it?

We are personally responsible for every choice we make, every hard truth or convenient lie we tell, every act of kindness or cruelty we commit, every bit of sly manipulation or honest respectful communication we extend to our fellow humans. Not just the humans who are like us, not just the ones on “our side,” not just the wealthy ones or the popular ones or the Republicans or the Americans or the ones who don’t let their kids read Harry Potter books.

As Jesus pointed out, a shiny-clean appearance doesn’t count for much in the eyes of God if your insides are full of lies and spite.

I’ve known for a long time that the quickest, surest way to really get to know someone is to let them behave however they want, with no criticism or negative consequences from you. It doesn’t take some people very long to realize that they are free to treat you however they like, and that’s when you begin to see who they really are underneath the shiny-clean appearance. And when you’ve seen enough, you can decide for yourself whether to keep that relationship or move on.

I’ve had my good long look at organized religion.

I’m moving on.

Categories: Christianity, Life | 7 Comments

More Changes, Part 2

Last week when the kids and I were up on Mt. Rubidoux, I chatted for a little while with an artist guy who was up there shooting video of the Friendship Tower. He was going to use it in a Christmas greeting on YouTube this year instead of mailing out cards. I thought it was a wonderful idea, and it brought into clearer focus a conviction that’s been forming in my heart over the past few weeks. (But that’s another post.) As he handed me his business card and we went our separate ways, I got to thinking about a series of Sunday night services Pastor Bill gave recently on the subject of how the modern church could be doing a better job of reaching out to post-modern cultures. I’ve never been able to attend the Sunday night services, but I like to download the mp3s online and listen to them at home, and this particular series was very enlightening for me.

It was intended to help church people who may have a hard time understanding post-modern perspectives, but as a fairly post-modern type myself (can one be a post-modern cave-dweller?) I found it to be a fascinating look into the social perspectives of church people.

In the first sermon of this series, the Pastor gave his listeners an assignment for the following week: to make friendly eye contact with strangers that they passed in public, and smile if they felt up to it. The second week’s assignment was to actually offer a hello or some other verbal greeting to at least one or two passing strangers. By the third week he’d given up on these kinds of assignments, because…hardly anyone in his Sunday evening congregation could bring themselves to even manage the eye contact part, much less SPEAK to people they didn’t know. It was simply beyond them.

I was astonished. This was a huge revelation to me, and the first real insight I had into the Church Person Perspective. I’ve always thought that smiling at folks in stores or wherever was a basic part of how people interact. They almost always smile back at me, and occasionally there are friendly greetings exchanged, or even a chat if we happen to be standing in the same space, so I can’t be the only one who thinks this way.

One of my warmest memories from the Road Trip Of ’07 is of an evening in Shreveport, Louisiana, in a little Creole café. We’d checked into our hotel very late and should have eaten quickly and gone straight to bed, but the waiter was so much fun to talk to that we ended up stretching the conversation out until the café closed for the night. We were the only customers in there that late, so the waiter and the hostess basically hung out at our table and regaled us with stories, observations, questions and Southern mythology. It was wonderful. (Weeks later when I was back home in Anza, I got a card in the mail from the chef there, discounting my next meal at Guillaumes’ if I should ever find myself back in Shreveport.)

These are the intersections that connect us to one another. I can’t imagine not seeking out these moments of genuine human contact wherever I find the opportunity. I may be solitary in my day-to-day habits, but that’s mostly because I haven’t found my tribe yet; these chance interactions with friendly strangers always leave me feeling energized and optimistic and connected to something much bigger than my own small life.

Pastor Bill’s “Post-Modern Man” series gave me my first big flash of insight into why the average church person doesn’t feel comfortable around someone of my personality type. I LIKE people. I treat strangers — Louisiana waiters, wandering artists, fellow grocery shoppers — the way I like to be treated: as if we were friends who just haven’t met yet. This is, I believe, a very basic tenet of the teachings of Jesus. And yet somewhere along the way the modern church culture has apparently become disconnected from the actual daily practice of social love for mankind in general.

Once I understood that, it didn’t take me long to figure out the rest of it.

More to come!

Categories: Christianity, Friends, Life, Road trip | 21 Comments

More Changes, Part 1

I almost decided not to post this one to my public blog, but it’s about a fairly large change in my life so this seems like the right place for it.

I’ve decided to take a break from church. In the past eight months or so there’s been an almost complete turnover in ministry leaders and staff, and the goals and methods and priorities of the new folks don’t really resonate with what I thought this little fellowship was supposed to be about. This is becoming more and more the case as time goes on — and they seem to be even more uncomfortable with me than I am with them.

Silver and gold have I none, and such as I have seems to be of no value to these new leaders. They’ve made that painfully clear in a multitude of ways that bear pretty much no resemblance to Christian love.

Sorry if I sound bitter. Maybe I am, a little. I’ll get over it.

For a long time I kept going to church anyway; partly because I felt loyal to Pastor Bill and really enjoyed his sermons, partly because I do still have friends there that I will miss visiting with every week, partly because Luke and Elizabeth enjoyed attending the Children’s Church and have friends of their own there, but mostly because I could not for the life of me figure out why these people do not like me. Unfinished lessons have a way of following you around from one situation to the next until you learn them, so I really wanted to know what the problem was before I moved on.

I don’t drink, smoke, gamble (unless the occasional game of bunco counts), sleep around or use drugs. I have mostly broken the profanity habit I picked up during my marriage. I am kind and friendly to people. I am not competitive or malicious or dishonest. I was very willing and eager to offer my time and energy to the various ministries until the people running them put all that effort into making me feel so unwelcome there. But such relentless alienation has to have SOME reason behind it, and I was determined to stick it out until I’d unraveled the mystery.

Which I finally have.

But that’s another post.

Categories: Christianity, Family, Friends, kids, Life | 10 Comments

Wordless Wednesday: Annual Pilgrimage

Categories: Christianity, Family, kids, Life, Love, Travel | Tags: | 2 Comments

Getting To Mexico

In my last post I mentioned the wonderful sermon Pastor Bill gave last Sunday and how it reminded me of why I love this little fellowship and its Pastor so much. I want to add a link to the mp3 recording of that sermon, since I know that some of my out-of-town friends might enjoy listening to it.

I feel like I should…prepare them first, though. Most of my out-of-town friends were raised in “high church” religions, and are very comfortable in traditional Catholic/Episcopalian/etc settings. Backcountry Christian Fellowship is exactly as casual and nontraditional as it sounds; we are a VERY laid-back bunch. Folks come to service wearing shorts and sandals and that’s completely fine. Pastor Bill comes from a traditional Catholic background himself, but I think he’s come about as far from that environment as it’s possible to come and still be a preacher. This is not going to sound like what you are used to, is what I’m saying.

Check it out anyway. It is awesome.

So without further ado, here is my favorite man of the (hawaiian-printed) cloth delivering my favorite sermon to date:

The Real Jesus, Part 2


Categories: Christianity, Humor, Life, Love | 2 Comments

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