Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Target Church or Wal-Mart Church?

My heart was already beating really fast when I bought a cup of black coffee and drank it as fast as I could. Nerves for sure, but probably more than that. Scared? For sure

I was about to argue with a co-worker over nothing, really. Over a series of misunderstandings that probably we both really understood as misunderstandings, but pride had gotten in the way and we were bound and determined to both be right. Which is impossible. But we always do it this as humans, don’t we?

I hate confrontation, and I hate fighting, I hate arguments even. I also hate to be wrong, and I really despise being talked down to and/or disrespected. So at some point something has got to give in theses situations, and all of a sudden here I am, nervous, scared, shaking and downing cups of coffee because it’s better than downing shots of Jager, but probably neither one is really good for me.

“Why and how did it even get to this point?” I wonder. But it doesn’t matter because it is to this point, and the showdown is about to take place. And I suppose it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it. Because now I have a few choices. I can try to be right, I can go off on the other party here and prove that I’m right (and this is important to note: I really strongly feel that I am, and I want to be right even more), or I can become a peacemaker and try to choose the way that I feel is the way of Jesus – to be humble, even apologetic, maybe bordering on weak. Actually, forget that – actually to be weak on purpose and maybe “lose” the fight in order to do things the way that I feel is best in terns of the big picture of life.

So a new question kicks up at me as I prepare to walk into the room: am I being spineless and looking for a way to avoid conflict simply so I don’t have to go through that pain? Am I over-spiritualizing the situation in order to give it a better context for myself, one that makes me look good to myself and also helps me avoid the pain of having to confront somebody that has been making me miserable on almost a daily basis for two years?

I don’t think I’ve ever been in an argument that accomplished the purpose that I wanted it to and made me feel victorious. Even a dumb argument with my wife over who the one is that is being weird usually ends up going nowhere. And if she says she’s the one that’s wrong, and the one being weird, I feel no satisfaction. I feel bad, and then I start to act weird. And then we argue again over who the one being weird is a few minutes later.

But maybe the bigger issue here is that I am obsessed with who is right and who is wrong. And this warped sense of justice causes me to hold grudges, to dislike people who I believe are good in their very nature, and to question whether or not I can associate with someone who won’t admit that they were wrong in a given situation.

I read Jesus talking about turning the other cheek, about giving a person everything if they want something, about being the bigger person, in essence, and I like it a lot. It resonates deeply in my spirit. The sensitive boy that my mother raised wants to cry thinking about how to help other people become better, and I sit and I ponder changing the way that I am.

And then I see that person, and maybe that person even stops and says something rude or condescending towards me. Maybe I misunderstand something the person says, or maybe that person says something in an unintended way. But no matter what, I am angry at that point. And all of the work that I have done to try and get myself in the right place is drained until I can get back to that place of solitude that allows me to get “right” again.

At some point, I sit down and I start to think about what is really going on. The defect is definitely in me, but isn’t it also in everything else? Isn’t the defect everywhere because of the nature of this messed up and broken world. What’s the standard of accountability for each of us, then?

Paul wrote about this issue in a different kind of way when he talked about the idea of bottomless grace that makes some people think that bottomless sin is okay, as long as the pattern is this: SIN, SEEK FORGIVENESS, SIN, SEEK FORGIVNESS and it repeats forever. I really think that this is what modern American Christianity looks like to most people. The idea that I can be whomever and whatever I wan to be as long as I’m a good person when I get home.

It’s based on compromise, and it’s rooted in bad theology and bad thinking, but it goes on and on. Make as much money as you can without regard to who is being hurt by it, consume everything, including the sermon and worship music on Sunday morning, and then complain about it and think of a place that can give it to you better. As if church is less the bride of Christ, sealed by his blood and requiring commitment and struggle and more of the model of comparing prices at Wal-Mart and Target.

But that rant doesn’t end there, because then questions come up about whether or not we should be pressing our churches to deliver better, whether the church is doing a good job of meeting our needs, but even these questions open up even better counter questions that require more thinking. In front of all of these, to me, is whether or not the average person entering our churches know what their needs even are, and then whether they care what they are, and lastly, if they even want them addressed.

Because we can all go to church and sit there and hear a really good message about any variety of topics, and the message might actually have a lot to say about our life as we sit there, but we might think it doesn’t. Or we might think that it doesn’t really matter, or that we can just get by another day and hope that nothing happens to make us feel “bad” or convicted in the next day or so.

But all of that really doesn’t even matter when we start to think of the Bride of Christ as an optional retreat that either meets our predetermined purposes or doesn’t. And I don’t want to get on a high horse about divorce or anything because it’s not really my point, but if we look at the Bride as a place that either “does it for us” or “doesn’t do it for us,” then no wonder we can do the same thing with spouses and friendships.

What if churches could be bodies of people working towards the same goals instead of a bunch of people fighting over the key that the music was played in that week, or whether The Message Bible is heresy. Or shouldn’t be called a Bible for that matter.

I believe that the Bride should be cared for and worked with and given a measure of grace to fix herself. Because that’s what I hope my literal bride will always do for me. So in that metaphor I start to wonder, how can we all get together to make the church better and help her struggle through bad times instead of just looking for the one that seems like it’s doing what we want. Because, guess what … that church has a whole different set of issues that will pop up when you allow yourself to see it clearly the way you see your current situation.

Target has some pretty great sales, and some pretty bad prices on some stuff. But then again, so does Wal-Mart, and so does the grocer store, and 7*Eleven and . . .

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