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Monday, April 15, 2013

Faith, phonies, and Following by Tracey Bateman


Of all the institutions in America, church is probably my least favorite. I wish I didn’t feel that way. I do write Christian fiction after all, and Christian authors should like the things all the other Christian like—potluck, baptisms, offering time. But church drives me crazy, what with all the phony smiles, hyper acceptance, and preachers wanting our money. (that was facetiousness for those of you who think I’m saying everyone’s a phony, lemmings, or money-grubbing snake oil salesmen).

I went to my friend’s church yesterday. He’s a pastor and is about as real as a guy can get. He used to pastor the biggest denominational church in town until he beat up a guy that had it coming and got ousted. So he started his own church. I think he repented for knocking the guy’s brains out and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t beat up anyone else since—he took up running, so that probably helps. Yesterday, he said Jesus went to the temple on the Sabbath “As was His custom”.

“If Jesus’ custom was to go to the temple,” my preacher friend said, “most of you should probably move in here.” It was funny. The point being if the perfect Son of God needed to go to church for a weekly recharge, how much more do we? This pastor is one of my best friends and he knows I think church is pretty much a waste of time, so he probably threw that out there to tell me church is, in fact, not a waste of time, and not only should I stop dissing the institution, I probably need it more than most people do. Smile. He might be afraid for my soul, but most likely just doesn’t want lightning to strike my head before we finish editing his book.

True story about my church experience last week. I went to church for the first time in awhile what with Mom being so sick for months and me figuring that’s as good an excuse as any to stay out of church and not be too judged for it. Two men complimented me. (don’t get hung up on the gender, it wasn’t like that, could have as easily been women). I was talking to a friend at the kiosk and a guy slipped his big arm around me and drew me in for an appropriate side-ways hug. He was big and warm and smelled like guy soap, which always reminds me of my dad and I could have stayed there awhile, but that would’ve been weird, so I didn’t. He said something nice and made me feel beautiful and accepted and I basked in his friendship. We’ve been friends since our, now grown, boys were in kindergarten together. I like him. He’s been “quitting smoking” since I met him, says inappropriate things at times, might have some shady business practices (not sure about that), but he adores his beautiful, perfect wife and their bazillion adorable kids, and is a good husband, father, and provider. And every time I see him he lets me know that he’ll always be my friend, even though he knows I’m messy too.

The other compliment: A smile, a hug/pat, and “You’re awesome.” SIGH. This guy definitely does NOT think I’m awesome. ☺ He knows I could be awesome like him, but I have a ways to go. He loves me, sort of, but in a “you could be so great, why aren’t you?” kind of way that makes me sad because my value is always based on what I will be rather than who I am.

And that’s what I don’t like most about church. The fake smiles and empty words (and also the dark sanctuary during worship which I think is manipulative—my friend’s church does it too, so I guess it’s just the new normal). So I’ve been stewing about it all week. Mad, really. Judging, even though I don’t want to be judged. And today, I woke up feeling guilty because I’m so mad, but also, thinking I’m right and church is stupid and I’m never going back, what with all the phonies, and I’m sure God agrees. Like Anne Lamott says, “You know you’ve made God in your own image when he hates the same people you do.”

I keep coming back to “Jesus went to the temple, as was his custom.” If being a follower of Jesus is to be like Him, to truly follow His example, then maybe He doesn’t think church is a waste of time like I figured He probably did, since I do. If following Jesus is obeying him, then my heart has to change. My over-inflated view of my own opinions needs to conform to the humility of Jesus’ weekly trek to the temple. Otherwise, I’m following an ideal—like going to church because you’re supposed to, rather than following a savior because I love him.

So anyway, I stopped being mad, got over myself, and figured I better start following Jesus better. It’s like falling in love all over again, this realization that I want to follow Jesus, even if he leads me to the temple with the dark sanctuary and phony smiles and empty compliments. Because the flip side is the peace of his presence, the truth of his word, and an ocean of love so deep and red and warm that even someone like me can swim in it and find the grace to follow him anywhere he leads.

1 comment:

Pamela Clemens said...

This made me chuckle. I'm smiling at you Tracey, for real!

 
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