hypocrisy

Red Canvas Shoes

The Pride Of The Susquehanna, the riverboat on City Island in Harrisburg, usually charges a fee to cruise, but the cool thing they do on Sunday mornings is allow different local churches to use it to hold their services and open to the public to ride for free. Some people use it as their home church and attend every Sunday and hear & experience different denominations, speakers, andcommunities. Last Sunday, those folks had the distinct and surely unexpected pleasure of the best singer they’ve ever heard and the rest of us at the Bridge Faith Community. 

Now. When we arrived, just after 9am on a Sunday morning, the island was flooded with cars and people, nearly impossible to find a parking spot.

The reason for the congestion was a truly wonderful surprise. I say surprise, but I sort of knew…I didn’t know the extent of the event, all I was told was that there would be a Muslim prayer service on the island from 7:30-8:30, so we may want to give yourself some extra time. Whatever is in your head is inadequate to describe the scene. Thousands of people in the most breathtaking dress gathered for the holiday of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice. This four day Feast of Sacrifice commemorates when God appeared to Abraham  and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience.

(I teach in shorts and red canvas shoes with my shirt untucked, so what I’m about to say is going to sound awfully hypocritical…and I suppose it’ll sound that way because it is. Oh well.)

We so desperately value the nonjudgmental freedom to attend church in our pajamas, if we so desire, coming “as we are,” that something has been lost. Perhaps what is gained outweighs what is lost, but as I soaked in the colors and beauty of the dress, I imagined their morning and felt every ounce of the loss. I imagined each of them waking hours early to prepare, as if for a special date or a wedding, wearing their finest clothes, souls peaceful and focused, mindfully approaching. This is a sacred occasion and must be entered into with the utmost respect and love for their God.       

In my house, we calculated the night before the latest we could sleep so we could rush through our many duties for the service and lunch. The contrast in my heart as I acknowledged the weight of their worship was striking and convicting, as if the Spirit was whispering into my ear that it would sure be nice if I would give that kind of attention to our time together.

I recognize this is what’s called projection, that probably some hurried, rushed and sped through Walmart, getting on each other’s nerves on their way, but certainly not all of them. Well, I probably shouldn’t even say certainly…maybe all of them did. Maybe the rude woman working at the Walmart that yelled at me when I asked about mustard packets had been asked about mustard packets since 5am for the Muslim prayer service. Who knows??? 

The point is, it doesn’t really matter – it felt far more sacred than my polo shirt and slip on shoes. I think that God doesn’t much care what we wear to the party as long as we come, but at the same time, giving our attention and intention to how we come is valuable to our own hearts and us becoming the kind of people we are created to be. We don’t have to…we get to.

And maybe the Spirit was whispering in my ear, after all, using an unexpected example to get my attention.

It’s interesting, at different times in our lives, different things are vital to our spiritual journey. In some seasons, maybe the pinnacle of faithful worship is setting aside the suits and ties of religion and enjoying the freedom to wear pajamas and flip-flops. At others, maybe a suit is exactly what we need. What we look like as we sit in church illustrates almost nothing about our relationship with Jesus. That we are prepared to hear those whispers and prompts, on the other hand, sure does.

(I haven’t even gotten to the riverboat or the chicken. This may be a longer series than I was expecting;)

Parties

The parable of the Prodigal Son is both wildly popular and wildly disturbing, which is a strange phenomenon. Usually ideas or art or people that challenge our accepted worldviews, that make us uncomfortable, are quickly discarded, because we defend nothing as tirelessly or viciously as our own ‘right-ness.’

Even One as beautifully, monumentally disruptive as Jesus (or the Bible), we reduce to bullet points, scouring stories and verses to find only those that confirm our already held beliefs and trashing the rest.

Yet we keep the Prodigal Son. 

(My guess is that it is most often used to describe others – always others, of course – who have walked away from our beliefs, comforting us with the hope that they will return, just like this son. I could be wrong, though. And I am more than fine with this comfort and hope. Mostly, I’m more than fine with all comfort and hope, especially the hope that comes from a God who runs to us, no matter what we’ve done or who we’ve been or if we’ve been eating the pigs food, and brings us into the feast. This story has given me rest as well – I have been the son who walked away and was welcomed back with hugs and acceptance and love. It’s a really great story. But there is so much more to it.)

The parable ends with a brother – a “good” boy, doing all the right things, following the rules, never leaving home – standing outside, in what he would surely describe as righteous anger. He honestly details his frustrations to the Father, and the Father listens and patiently answers – “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” One of the most gorgeous verses in the Scriptures: “Everything I have is yours.” 

And the story ends with the brother outside, with a decision to make.

How many times have I decided that this party is not, should not be, for them (whoever ‘them’ is)? 

It’s called judgment, and it’s not awesome. We decide where the walls are, who is on the guest list (of course, OF COURSE, we are always on the inside), what the admission requirements are, who has been good enough and who has not.

I used this parable Sunday in a message about forgiveness, because we are all the brother. We have a choice to make. Do we want a world of Fairness – because to tell the truth, it’s not fair that the brother gets in. He severely disrespected the Father and everything He stood for – or do we want Forgiveness? Do we want entrance requirements? Do we want walls?

He is with us, and everything He has is ours, now do we actually want His kind of party?

Can we really live a life free of comparison, free of being “better than” someone else? 

SO many questions… 

Can we enter a party where the guest of honor is our “enemy,” who has not followed any of the rules, who looks and acts differently that we think guests at this party should look and act?     

And if I start to look at that brother honestly (which in itself takes a humongous amount of courage) and see that I share more in common with him than I’d ever care to acknowledge, then I’ll start asking all new questions and opening the door to a whole new life and I’m pretty sure that kind of whole new life is what Jesus had in mind all along.

How We Talk

Last Sunday, we walked right into a trap. We were just learning about how to live like the new creations that we are, how to love God and each other, and “love” is supposed to be soft and squishy, like walking in healthy morning grass or good night kisses. These weeks are supposed to be comfortable greatest hit albums.

Then, verse 10: Honor one another above yourselves. So far, so good, relatively innocuous, we can usually ignore the ‘above yourselves’ part and keep reading, right?  

But upon closer examination, I found this (in Gill’s exposition of the Bible): “In honour preferring one another; saints should think honourably of one another, and entertain an honourable esteem of each other; yea, should esteem each other better thou themselves; and not indulge evil surmises, and groundless jealousies of one another, which is contrary to that love that thinks no evil. They should speak honourably of each other in Christian company, and discourage that evil practice of whisperings, backbitings, and innuendos; they should treat each other with honour and respect in their common conversation, and especially when met together as a church of Christ. They should go before each other in giving honour, and showing respect, as the word signifies: they should set each other an example; and which also may be taken into the sense of the word, should prevent one another, not waiting until respect is shown on one side to return it again.”

I always love the extra English ‘u,’ as in honour or favourite – bringing to mind the Depeche Mode classic ‘Blasphemous Rumours,’ but we can’t get distracted by its superfluous beauty. This evil surmises and groundless jealousies business hurts, because I often know exactly what everyone else’s motivations are, and that they are not often positive. I know just what the politicians aims are, what co-workers and neighbors really mean when they ask favours, what my sister means when she says that, or my wife with that look she gives. Our expositor Gill seems to think we should stop that. What?!? He seems to be writing that it’s less than honouring to the other to pretend we have clearly discerned their heart.     

And whisperings, backbitings and innuendos? How else is there to talk about someone?

Gill goes on to call us to treat each other with honor and respect in conversation. Ok, but what about the sarcasm, condescension, or manipulation in which we have become so proficient? Sometimes, they don’t even know we’re talking down to them! So funny, isn’t it? Or the open rudeness we proudly call honesty and rationalize as one who “tell(s) it like it is?” Principle and strength of character.

[I was just about to shift the tone of this piece and confess that I am one who has trafficked in sarcasm for much of my life, but the funny part is that you already know that. I’ve been unwittingly employing it for the past several paragraphs, thinking how clever and subversive I was. There wasn’t any in my expressed love for the extra ‘u,’ though.]

The first problem with these tactics we so casually employ is that their chief purpose is to tear down and to minimize another’s worth and value. It’s garden variety judgment – we decide they are less (using whatever qualification) and act accordingly.

Of course, we engage in this judgment for just one reason: our own poor self-esteem. I am afraid that I am actually the one who doesn’t measure up, so I point at others, spread news (always negative information,) gossip, mock. I actively try to belittle and demean thinking that I am fooling everyone into thinking that I am the powerful, the moral, the intellectually superior, when the sorry truth is that I am scared to death of being ‘found out,’of being exposed. This is simple bully behavior. Kids who bully are the most insecure of all, and it’s the same with us. The meanest, most arrogant, selfish, condescending of us are without exception buried under our own perceived inadequacies, desperately wearing masks to hide behind. 

The second problem is that, as we tear each other down, we also destroy any true, authentic relationship. It’s impossible to relate on any deeper level without trust, care, kindness and love. We use our words as a wrecking ball to clear the area around us, further isolating ourselves until we are finally alone. 

The Scriptures are laying out details to bring us closer together, to create a beautiful unity. I’ve only recently begun to read these many lists of ‘shall’s and ‘shall not’s as gifts to protect us from ourselves, providing a vision that we may flourish. We simply can’t achieve this vision while our goal is, ultimately, to defend the altar we’ve erected to ourselves.   

    

  

Paper Cuts & Fractures

Anne Lamott once said there were 3 types of prayer, ‘Thanks,’ ‘Help,’ and ‘Wow,’ and I think that’s pretty accurate, but it’s the ‘Help’ ones I’m thinking about today. Often, in the Scriptures, the writers are asking for guidance, for help through any number of situations or challenges or obstacles. Sometimes the help is to deliver them, to grant them peace, or a good night’s sleep, or to bash their enemies on rocks. Either way, the cool thing is that they always come to God with a beautiful humility, a sense of their place and of His place. They have a problem and He can fix it. He was big, strong, awesome enough to fix anything they could carry, and He was loving enough to want to. (Whether He did or did not is another matter, a question for another day.) But, perhaps more importantly, they believed that they were big enough, significant enough to Him that He would care about their problems, obstacles, their well-being enough to come to their rescue and provide what they needed. 

The interesting thing that has happened, as we get more religious and less childlike is that that innocent humility is gone, replaced with the modern idol of comparison.

Where we would immediately go straight to God and say/scream “HELP!!!” now we wonder if our problem is enough to warrant an audience with the Creator of the Universe. There are others with so many more pressing issues, catastrophes, global disasters, matters of life and death. We say, “well, it’s not as bad as ____, and we should just get over it.” This lie grows in our heads, whispers that our trouble is inconsequential, selfish, and we should be ashamed to even consider bothering Him with it.    

This is a bizarre kind of idolatry, where we are the focus instead of the character of God. 

As the humility goes, the honesty goes, too. And we hide our hearts under carefully crafted masks of what we think we should be. 

Could you even imagine speaking of revenge before God, saying,  “Happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks,” as the prophet Jeremiah did in Psalm 137? 

I’m not saying you should feel that way, but what if you do? 

Well, I would probably pretend not to, because it’s not very spiritual and what would everyone else think? I would probably paint a smile on your face and hide those feelings in a corner somewhere until they disappear – they will disappear, right? 

More masks, more idolatry, more destructive circles, more unhealthy behaviors, more resentment, more bitterness, more fake plastic people.

There are 2 words in the Bible that explode this whole warped system of ours. In John 11, a man named Lazarus dies and Jesus is late and if He “had been here,” Lazarus “would not have died.” The story has a very happy ending, but before Jesus does exactly what He came to do, what He knew He was going to do all along, verse 35 says, “Jesus wept.”

He didn’t say calm down, don’t cry, just wait, watch this. He didn’t try to cheer anyone up, didn’t minimize their pain (and consequently, His own). He didn’t tell anyone what they should be feeling or where to direct their heartbreak. He wept. He wasn’t concerned with comparison or comfortability. He was interested in the hearts of these 2 sisters, in their honest, authentic, wide-open hearts, without pretense or the self-imposed weight of “the should’s.”

The truth of the Bible (and of human experience) is that no one heals by covering brokenness with denial. It is only through dragging it into the light, weeping over it, laying it down and leaving it there, at His feet. Sure, our wound may not be as deep as someone else’s, our diagnosis not as severe, but comparison has never been His concern. His concern has always been our hearts, and He heals paper cuts as well as fractures, if we only trust Him enough to stop pretending and ask.       

Confirmation Classes

My dad took me to my confirmation classes every Sunday morning. There was a Lutheran church half a block from where we lived that we ‘belonged’ to, that confirmed me. (Who knows what I was confirmed as? I suppose I could look it up, but it makes a better point to not know, right? Maybe I was confirmed to be awesome. Or super-spiritual. Or something.) I don’t know how old I was, maybe 10 or 11, and I have absolutely no idea what they taught on those Sunday mornings. My dad told me it was important, and I’m sure it was to some of the other kids in my class. The problem, the reason it didn’t sink in, that I have totally forgotten it, that as soon as I was confirmed I left that church and never went back, was that even though he took me every week, even though he told me how valuable it was, he lied.

Now, that’s probably way too harsh. To say he lied implies some sort of intent, and I don’t think he meant to deceive me in the least. He probably thought he believed it was important. 

He just didn’t. 

This is nothing that is particularly unique to him, I’m the same way.

I tell my boys it’s important to eat lots of fruit and vegetables and stay away from sugar and other junk foods. And maybe someday they’ll write that I lied. I suppose I don’t really think it is too important, because any time I have the opportunity to eat a donut, I do. And I think most vegetables are punishment and to be avoided at all costs.

There’s a saying, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” This speaks to the simple fact that the most effective, honest way to communicate our beliefs is our actions. We are all teachers, even if we are completely unaware of this fact. And if, in our lessons, our actions don’t match our words, which one do you think wins?

If I am constantly drilling Samuel with the value of telling the truth, then he walks in the room to hear me call off “sick” from work so I can sleep in, which do you think makes the deeper impression?

If Elisha constantly hears me listing the virtues of exercise, yet never get off the couch…     

My words might be 100% spot on, they’re just not part of the curriculum I’m teaching.

I remember that surprisingly powerful commercial when the boy, after being found with drugs, screams, “I learned it from watching you!!!!” Could that dad tell his kids how important it is to ‘just say no,’ while he was saying Yes? 

Well, sure, he can. They’re just not listening.

So, the BIG question is, do I really believe the things I say I do? My dad didn’t think church was a big deal, never set foot in a church. (Maybe that’s not true – I do think I remember him being there for my special confirmation, but it’s fuzzy. Maybe he was.) I don’t know why he took me every week. Maybe it looked a certain kind of way and gave an impression he wanted to give, or maybe he just wanted his boy to have the base he didn’t. All I know was that I was paying very close attention.

Do we believe the things we say we do? It takes a focused examination and an honesty that requires a ridiculous amount of courage to find out. And then, once we find out that not every area is in line (because we will), then what do we do with that? Will we continue the heart- (and back-) breaking work and drop the hollow words, or worse, bring our lives into alignment with our values?

It’s hard, of course, it is. But no one ever said it would be easy, just that it would be worth it.