Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Scattered Thoughts of a Newly-Churched Guy

I really hope you all who read my blog take the time to read the comments. Nearly without exception, they are more constructive than my posts, keeping my ramblings in line and elaborating on areas I left untouched. On Monday, Jenn left a comment concerning the Haggard situation that I want to draw attention to because I think it rightly responds to this situation that is so ripe for judgment and "holier than thou" thinking.

Her comments also spawned some thoughts in me about church. Admittedly, I have had precious little experience with said institution. I attended throughout my youth but more because the NFL pre-game shows were so bad and because everyone else down here in the South was doing it. Plus, I was scared of Hell. I thought going to church might provide some fire insurance, of sorts. 1 hour every Sunday for eternity seemed like a bargain. In college, it felt more like an obligation, as I attended on Sunday's but chose to primarily invest myself on campus. Only now in the post-college life am I starting to really learn what church is, how I can serve in it, and how it can minister to me.

My thoughts today concern this image of the church as "a hospital for sinners." I have heard the phrase concluded with "not a museum for saints." I believe this phrase to be truth, but as stated Monday, the world doesn't see the church this way. For whatever reason, most of us church-goers don't come across as people who need help, which could be an issue given that Jesus says, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." The world seems to miss this point entirely, but I'm not certain it's them missing it so much as us sending the wrong signals.

I think about my Sunday mornings. I never look better during the week than I do Sunday morning. I dress well (or as well as this notoriously bad dresser can). I am in a good mood given that I did not wake up early to go to work. I am further in a good mood because lunch out and football await. I talk about God most of the time I'm there. Usually, I am shaven. And I never spend enough time with anyone to really let them hear much about my life. Small talk is, after all, small talk because one never gets to anything big. Except those few people who know me really well, most people see me - and everyone else - Sunday morning as people who have their stuff together. Nevermind what I look like and think about when I roll out of bed at 6am, er 5am, Monday morning. Nevermind the thoughts that motivate my actions throughout the day. Nevermind the trivialities which I allow to consume my life (speaking of which, I could use a big night out of Elton Brand tonight). All they see is me and a room full of well-dressed, smiling people with God on their lips.

The really frustrating thing for my beloved cynicism is that this situation occurs through no real action of my own. I'm not really faking anything, given conversation in Sunday school and smaller groups tends to be real, raw, and honest. Just at the moment in that large group setting, life is good since I'm not at work, hearing about God, and waiting for football. I want to blame myself, Christians, somebody, but this anti-hospital appearance seems to just kind of happen.

I guess the blame (that word is too negative but it's all I've got right now) lies in recognizing what this portrays and not doing anything about it. But even then, do I not shave? Do I wear a tank-top to worship? Do I confess sin the instant anyone says, "Hey, how's it going?"?

I don't know. Perhaps worrying about how the world sees us would all go away if I spent the effort caring about my walk with the Lord. Humility seems to be the answer to the world's view of Christianity, and that has to start on the individual level. If the world new Christians as humble lovers and servants, maybe it would change its perception of Church or Christianity, regardless of what Sunday morning may look like. After all, patients in a hospital are defined by humility, completely dependent on the care of another. There can be no "holier than thou" thinking when I have to ask another to empty my bedpan.


Anonymous said...

Working in a medical office where patients frequently go from office straight to the hospital, i'll be so bold as to say that your "patients in hospital show humility" metephor is skewed. Many that i've come in contact with always believe that you are there to serve them and should be happy/lucky to be doing so. I believe that both parties being the secular world and the christian world need to meet each other in the middle. Some christians do act holier than thou and some non-believers feel this because deep down they know they aren't living up to God's promise for us. Thoughts?

Chris Pappa said...

Undoubtedly patients in hospitals act with arrogance. Many men boast up until the moment they die. Unfortunately, humility is not a neccessary result of being brought low. If it were, rich healthy people would have no chance at heaven, and the poor and destitute would get a free ride (thank you Jefferson Airplane).

Of course, it certainly IS much harder for the rich and healthy to become humble--Jesus thought it would be easier to squeeze a camel through a needle's eye. And it IS much easier to be humble when you know you've got nothing to offer. But how people sincerely maintain arrogance while sick is hardly surprising to me--I am fatally sick with sin every day of my life and I still tend to think that I deserve this divine grace.

"Sick? Yes, God, I've heard that before... Dead? Oh, I've heard that too. And don't get me wrong, I'm mighty thankful for how you got me out of that jam. Death to life, yeah, good stuff there. But I think I've got it from here."

It's a pitiful state to be in, really. We shake our heads at those dying in hospital beds who "believe that [we] are there to serve them and should be happy/lucky to be doing so." So I imagine our God sometimes shakes His head at us. "Can't you hear how ridiculous you sound? Can't you see where you are?" But not all of us do. As Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Jenn Pappa said...

Hey Ben,
Thanks for the shoutout.
Here are some extra thoughts:
First of all, in this post you seem to talk about church as if the only thing that defines it is what happens on Sunday morning. I don’t think this is true. One great thing about the church is that we are supposed to be involved in each other’s lives daily. We live together, eat together, praise God together, and well, do everything together. God uses the church to pour into each other’s lives spiritually and physically. I've had so many moments where my church has been there to either help me financially or spiritually through an individual or through a gift from the church as a whole. In fact, there are times when I've called my "church" (people in my church) crying or in desperate need… not exactly to change my bedpan, but close enough. I’ve also been admonished or corrected by someone in my church and it has helped me not make mistakes in my life that would have hurt both me and dishonor God’s name.

Sunday morning is just a part of church life and different churches use that time differently. All seem to agree that it’s a time for the whole congregation to get together and to worship. I love Sunday mornings because I get to see my “family” celebrate and be reminded of who God is together. I think it should be a good day. It’s just sad that it’s all the world sees and they don’t know of all those other moments where church members are literally selling their possessions to help each other and pulling each other out of the gutter. I feel like the real point of the church is that it’s a body of believers who want to love each other and to love the world together because that is what God commanded them to do. It’s not going to church on Sunday morning to feel better about the world or youself.

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