Monday, June 5, 2017
Attitudes, messiness, and communities of faith
I've written a couple of posts lately that I had to hold back. Attitude problems.
Yes, I struggle with attitude problems. I struggle so much, I'm suspicious of people who appear not to have any problems. I don't trust them. I figure they're faking me out, and I tend to resent that.
My attitudes bristle over three types of people:
(1) People who act artificially sunny and give the impression that they are looking at me and thinking, "I have my life all together. Why don't you?"
(2) Bossy people.
(3) People who seem to be competing with me. I have no desire to compete with you. I have no desire either to beat you or to be beaten by you. If you insist on competing with me, I will go elsewhere. Sometimes even if you don't think you are competing with me, but I think you are competing with me, I will go elsewhere. I distance myself from competition.
I've been a loner most my whole life. This likely stems from my dislike of being bossed or competed with, and my unusually cynical distrust of people who hide their problems.
Once I found a blog that was called something about a messy Christian. I thought, "I have found my people! That's what I am! I'm a messy Christian."
To me, a messy Christian is one who goes around with egg on her face and her foot in her mouth, who can't wear white clothes to anything, ever, without coming home filthy. She slips on the ice in the parking lot on Easter Sunday and goes down like a ton of bricks, tearing holes in her nylons and staining her dress with blood from a scraped knee. A messy Christian disappoints herself and offends others. She makes fettuccine alfredo to take to the man who just came home from the hospital after a heart attack. She serves the Communion crackers and juice to the nursery toddlers by mistake (because they were saltines and Juicy Juice). She claps offbeat, sings during rests and parks in the pastor's reserved parking spot by mistake. She faints during the Christmas cantata and awakens surrounded by an angelic sea of tall people in choir robes looking down at her. She offends the liberals by trying to obey what the Bible says about women's roles, and she offends the conservatives by inviting a homosexual to attend a church event with her. Her phone might even ring during a funeral (because she forgot to silence it).
Here's a messy Christian example: Once I was in a Bible study with some people, and we were talking about money and materialism. I said, "Yeah, you know? I was reading this book recently, and the character in the book said that his prayer was for God to make him neither too rich, nor too poor. He was afraid that if he got too rich, he would forget God, but if he got too poor, he would be tempted to steal. So he prayed for something in the middle. I think that sounds good." The leader of the study looked at me, dumbfounded, for a minute. Then he began to laugh uproariously. "That's Proverbs. That's in Proverbs 30!" he exclaimed. Well, who would've thought? There it was, Proverbs 30:8-9.
But then I started reading that particular messy Christian blog, and it was all about getting messy with parsing up the Bible, cherry-picking the parts she liked and pitching the rest, defying classical doctrine and repudiating tradition on the basis of its being tradition, and not based on whether it was actually Biblical. That's a different level of messy. I hope I'm not messy like that; or, if I start to become so, I hope that someone--or God Himself--will correct me and get me back on track.
There's this thing with the term hypocrite. You can't call a Christian a hypocrite because she makes messes and fails to live up to the standard. We all fail to live up to the standard, all the time. Jesus is the standard. None of us can do what He did. This is not hypocritical. Jesus is God, and we are not God.
At the same time, we have to continue to try to live by the power of the Holy Spirit. Since the Spirit is real, and He comes to reside inside the body of every believer, actually calling our bodies His temple, this is something we can do. We can't do it perfectly, because we are still weighed down by the the fallenness of the material world. But we can learn and grow in excellence and holiness. Indeed, we must, and we will, if we are truly indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which we are, if we have authentically asked to be. That's not to say that we won't have moments of spectacular failure; look at David and Bathsheba and Uriah. But there is always forgiveness; look at 1 John 1:9.
I think you are only a hypocrite if you hide your sins, struggles, sorrow and insecurities. It's the hiding that makes you a hypocrite, the untruthfulness and the projection of an image suggesting that you think you are better than others. Real Christians do not think they are better than others. They know they are worse than others (1 Timothy 1 :16 --well, yes, Paul had been a murderer of Christians, but we all do terrible things). We have known the bitterness of sin, and it has driven us to the relief of the Savior's arms. We struggle with all manner of earthly troubles, temptations and trials, but we have found our antidote in Christ who forgives, cleanses and heals.
Let us seek to join together in communities of faith where we can be open, honest and safe together, where we can confess our sins to each other as the Bible says (James 5:16), and receive prayer and encouragement rather than betrayal, rejection, condemnation and isolation. Accountability is what helps us succeed, but there is no accountability where everyone wears a mask of perfection. How can we build churches where trust will flourish, breeding vulnerability, and leading to encouragement and accountability?
Sometimes it might be true that certain churches attract people who are adept at behaving nicely, and thus you wind up with a lot of really well-behaved people walking around with their well-behaved masks on. This makes spiritually struggling people feel uncomfortable and frightened. Jesus Himself said that He came for the sick, not the healthy. There are only two kinds of people in the world: (1) those who are currently very spiritually sick, and (2) those who used to be very spiritually sick, but Jesus healed them and gave them a second chance. There is nobody who should be prideful. Either you need Jesus but you haven't found Him yet, or you need Jesus but you have found Him, benefitted from His grace, and stand ready to help others find Him, too.
Let's be encouraging, not bossy. Let's replace rules with stories about our failures and our triumphs as we live out our faith, while remembering that our stories are particular to us. The Holy Spirit works uniquely in every situation, perfectly customizing His power for each individual. He will never lead us into sin, but as we walk in faith together, we must remember that there is a difference between the steadfast, spiritual principles of righteousness and the specific, varied steps a person may follow to find God's will. Ultimately, though, the goal must be healing, not symptom management. We have to be willing, together, to seek freedom from sin.
Let's cooperate to encourage one another to love and good works, celebrating each person's success, building up, equipping, and trusting God to build a powerful synergy when we lose ourselves in the joy of helping each other grow.