Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dealing with shame

I attended a funeral this weekend. For the record, I’ve never been a fan of funerals. Although they are not as sullen and depressing as one would think (especially not in a Black Baptist Church), I can still name a thousand and five places I’d rather be. But, if you think about it, funerals are also a pretty interesting part of life. This particular funeral was pretty memorable for me; but not for the reasons that one would suspect. Let me explain:

After the service, I ran into some brotha in the restroom. I didn’t know him, nor had I ever seen him. I couldn’t tell if he was with the family, a friend of the deceased, or just a simple acquaintance. In fact, I never even bothered to get his name. What I was more interested in were some of the things that he said. I don’t even recall how the conversation came up, but he mentioned to me that he used to be an avid ‘church goer’. But his presence today marked the first time he had been to church in over fifteen years. Fifteen years! When I asked him what kept him away for so long, he replied with five simple words: “Them hypocrites in the church.” (his language was a little broken, but I understood the gist of his statement). Now, I know that this shouldn’t be an excuse for his complete dismissal of the church, but I couldn’t help but to ask myself how often the toxic practices of the church destroy people’s connection with the body of Christ and shames them to the point of no return (Lliterally; to point where they don't return).

I have to admit something here: I can talk a mean game when I’m ranting about something. But when a situation like this pops up in my face, I have a difficult time finding the right words. But – in this instance – I simply told the man, “Look. Don’t throw your salvation away just because of a few close-minded, intolerant, and perhaps ignorant people. What people think about you will never dismiss the fact that God loves you.” I think that I caught him off guard when I made this statement, largely because I imagine that he was either trying to form an “Amen Corner” with me in it; or he was trying to size me up as one of “them hypocrites”. But, when I deflected the attention away from “hypocritical” church folks and onto God’s love, I think I shocked him, though I can’t say for sure what really happened. But, from that point, his tone mellowed significantly. He even told me that he was going to go back to church. Whether he does or not is anybody’s guess.

But, all things being equal, this situation represents some serious problems. Sadly, I think that this type of stuff happens much too often in the church. Too many people have been brought to shame, anger, and discontent by church folks who have attempted to convince the rest of the world how vile, evil and rotten they are. Paul was perhaps one of the greatest and most important followers of Christ in history. But, it took deep wounding and shame for him to get to that point. But, I think that it takes a certain level of hurt, shame, and suffering for us – like Paul – to really discover Jesus.

It might sound funny for me to say, but I have a serious issue with how we try to convince sinners of how bad they are and how much they need to be ‘changed’. We tell them that that they are terrible sinners who need to turn away from all of their wrong-doing before they are accepted by God. In a way, this type of holy practice is downright scary; and – frankly – not something that I think Jesus would do. I mean, if you think about it, the Gospel consists of all sorts of stories that tell of Jesus’ ministry of restoring sinners to the dignity and fullness of being His people; long before He called them out on the actual sin itself. Why can’t we do the same? Especially, since we all had to rely on God’s grace at one point or another to free us from the guilt, shame, and bondage that came with sin. Especially, since we are all still dirty Christians today. I’ve admitted it. How about you?

The truth of the matter is: I wouldn’t be all too surprised if many church folks suffer from shame themselves. I’m not trying to judge or even criticize anybody (though there are some people who I really have in mind right now), but I think it’s important to gain important perspective on our lifestyles before we criticize others. This idea applies to me, you, the man in the bathroom, the “hypocrites” he mentioned, etc. I suspect that if any given person were to open anybody else’s secret closest, what they’d find would be boxes with deep inner recesses of sin and shame. However, because of God’s unmatched grace, we have the chance to eliminate our shame and to change our views of others. Now, does this completely dismiss the sins we commit? Of course not. But, it does – at least – give us a greater perspective of God.

Simply put: if we go around telling people how dirty, sinful, and vile they are, that’s exactly how they’ll act. Don’t believe me? Well, look no further than our prison system. More often than not, people respond to others based on how they’re treated themselves. I dare you to treat that “sinner” like some who is loved by God and see how they act in response…

It’s sad to point out that much of our lifestyle in the church has more to do with control and judgment of others than with love, forgiveness, and acceptance. As I’ve said before, much of the significance of grace stems from God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance of us, even when we were buried in our own shame. Even in the Garden, Adam’s shame led him to hide from God.

But, none of this dismissed the fact that we have a loving God who is always ready to heal, forgive and restore us. He’s waiting to take our lives our dirty, slimy, and sinful lives; and make them like new.

Can we do the same for others?


11 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

Anonymous said...

This is so sad but true. As a matter of fact, I've been working on a piece about some of the false and painful things "the church" has said to me.

I'm glad there are people out there like you reaching out to those who may never meet another loving Christian.

I hope you never stop writing, Andre. God speaks to me through your writing SO MUCH! I can't begin to tell you how much you bless me!

saved_sinner said...

Nice post, brother.

I think that God gives us all the chance to show love and compassion to those who have either had a bad experience with the church or NO experience at all.

I got me thinking about how so many "religious" folks out there fail to truly represent Christ. I'm glad that I can relate to what you're saying, but sometimes I wish I didn't. I really wish that this problem didn't exist.

joanne said...

Terrific post, Andre.

At my church, I'm in a support group for couples who are in abusive relationships. What I've discovered is that people who were abused as children make choices as they become adults. They either abuse their children because of how they were raised or they are not abusive because they don't want their children to go through the same things they did.

This is what I see in church people. If they were abused by the church they either abuse others themselves, or they learn from it, and hold off on abusing others. The simply fact is that we need to break the cycle of abuse in our churches. It's scary to imagine this abuse living for generation after generation.

green eyed girl on planet earth said...

Hello Greeneyedman,
Do you feel one may have a belief and connection with God without the Church ? Can you be as you stated you are "more spiritual than religous"? In your post here ,are you referring to the Church as ones only relationship with God? is it the congregation and organized religion you are speaking of , or ones personal belief ?

and off topic

Someone emailed this little ditty and I thought you may enjoy it seeing you are ANTI-BUSH

Apparently, this is the most popular screensaver in the US.
If he gets stuck, just move him with your cursor.It is a little silly but worth a peek !

check it out if havent already enjoyed it LOL


Anonymous said...

Another great one for the record, Andre. This one hit me really hard because it felt like you were talking to me directly. I've had times where I've seen girls come to church dressed "inappropriately", which caused me to be distracted from service. But, little did I see, we are all God's people, all slapped by the hand of sin, and healed by the power of grace (some people, at least). It took me a long time to realize that how I viewed people did more to hurt them than it did to heal them.

Thank you for this most inspiring word!

Andre said...

@ anonymous: You should read "When Bad Christians Happen to Good People" by Dave Burchett. It's a real eye-opener when it comes to some of the problems you've faced with the church.

Thanks for your comments, by the way!

@ saved_sinner: I agree with you completely. Nothing is worse (or scarier) than a person who proclaims Jesus with his mouth, but speaks a different message through his actions. It's important to recognize that.

@ joannne: Well put. Nothing like a first-hand experience to open our eyes to God's truth. Jackpot!

While I wish that people in your support group didn't have to confront those horrible issues, at least we can feel comfort in knowing where the root of there problem lie. Simply put: they know how abuse has caused them to be abusive. Resolution and reconciliation are the next steps. Thank you for sharing your comments!

@ green-eyed: I believe that our 'spirituality' provides the connection between us and God (or whatever god people chose to believe). Religiosity (yes, this really is a word) is about the rituals, customs, and rules behind the belief. I don't think that one can exist without the other. But -- too often -- many people in the church make them mutually exclusive. For instance, in the name of "religion", people will dictate practices and norms that are not only hypocritical and destructive (especially in the eyes of the non-believers to whom we are supposed to minister), but that are also completely unspiritual and un-Christ like. Persecuting young girls for wearing pants in church is an example of that.

As it relates to the church versus the Church, the church (small "c") is merely infrastructure; a building where people assemble. The Church (capital "C") -- as you stated -- is a universal group of people who have received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Though this is broken up into the "local" churches, who follow different doctrines/religions (we call them denominations; Baptists, Catholics, Methodits, etc.), the Church itself is a body of people all brought together by through faith in Christ. Each group seeks edification through its 'local' church. Which leads me to your last question:

Though we are not required to attend church (small "c") services as a condition of our salvation, it's important for us to join "a fellowship of the saints" for the purpose of worshipping God and for feeding our souls. My late pastor put it best when he said that church services are our "fuel" to help us through the week. So,again, even though attending church is not a requirement fo believers, we should have the desire to attend so that we can worship, fellowship with others, and be taught in God's Word.

Off topic, I love that screensaver. A co-worker sent it to me before. It's odd, though: she said the same thing YOU did! Do I really come across as being THAT anti-Bush?! :)

Thanks for your comments, as always!

@ anonymous: Your "dress" issue really drives my point home about bad religion can really destroy the foundations of the Church if we're not careful. Don't get me wrong; Jesus' message will never be compromised, but we -- as the messengers -- can do harm by the way we treat others; especially those who we feel need to align themselves with what WE THINK is "appropriate".

Thanks for your comments!

ajbendaña said...

I was born into and brought up in a christian home. I am very proficient with the teachings of the church which build a good moral structure for anyone. Teachings aside, i have and never will never agree with the idea that I or anyone else has to go to the church to worship. Your body is your temple and that means gods temple.
I have always been one to question everything, especially religious beliefs. I always saw people that claimed to be religious to be hypocrites. Thats not to say that church and what it stands for is bad, but the variable that turns it bad is the Human veriable. Jesus left guidelines for us to follow, but who was left incharge of the church and its guidelines? Man was left inchrage. Does that not raise a red flag. WE are not perfect and we have seen examples of good things turn to bad or exploided in the wrong hands. What am i getting at you ask? Heres a simple example. If i tell you a story and you tell the next person and that person tells someone else and so on. After 10-15 people that story starts to change. Now apply that to the church and its teachings under human guidance. I believe in god, now more than ever, I am becomeing more spiritual each day, but i dont believe in religion personally. To me the diffrent religions of the world are just a diffrent path that leads to the same place in the end, GOD, whether you call him Jesus, Buhda, etc. My personal belief is that all of us has a god seed within, waiting to be let out. We also possess two minds. Those being small mind = EGO, Big mind = Gods mind. If you have ever experienced a state of grace you have experienced what its like to be in Big mind. It could be looking at the world from the top of a mountain, or the birth of your child. You feel a rush, you feel great, you feel at peace, you are thankful for all, you are one with god. Most people forget that they have that connection becuase they are to caught up living in small mind. Worried about getting a new car, whats the new cell phone thats coming out, material things in general. Things that dont satisfy your soul. They may statisfy you for a short period of time, but then you will move on to the next new toy. Wow, that was a rant. I recently been going thru some tough times and i needed to reaffirm myself with god. He helps me get by and see the bigger picture.

God bless

ajbendaña said...

and yes Miami is going to destroy Detroit Basketball!!!


green eyed girl on planet earth said...

Hey my Greeneyed man,
Ahhhhmmmm! I read and re-read your reply to me , and I have a question please,,,, I follow your answer and agree to a certain degree , one thing ,(Quest) Are you stating that in your opinion ,spirituality cannot come without organized religon? or that only organized religion is the catalist for spirituality?
If one cannot "feed the soul" by Church going and does not get that "fuel" does it fade and die away?

and funny you said "Religiosity"(that is a word ) that very thought came as I was reading it , hope you had a greaT WEEKEND and NO you dont seem too anti -bush LOL

Andre said...

@ ajbendaña: I agree with you to a large extent. Sometimes I ask myself what God was thinking when he put us in charge of things. But, I tend not to be as critical about the fact that the church is left to man to operate. To me, it gives me reassurance that God gives us, feeble and sinful people, the charge of carrying out His message. He sees the potential that we have, even when it's complete blind to the rest of the world, ourselves included. That, to me, is pretty indicative of God's grace and favor or us. King David, for instance, was a man "after God's own heart", but he was a murderer and an adulturer. I think it's cool that the Bible doesn't leave that out. We get to see -- first hand -- how David really WAS human. So are we.

My problem comes when men: pastors, deacons, and other 'leaders' manipulate the Word to satisfy their own agenda or to beat down everyone else without turning the spotlight on themselves.

But, when it all boils down to it, God knows exactly what He's doing. His plan will see itself through whether we decided to accept our role in it or not.

Thanks for your comments.

By the way, I hope you REALLY don't believe that Miami's gonna take it all..

@ My green-eyed beauty: I don't think I did a good job of explaining my point. In fact, I think I even confused myself a bit. :)

Let's try it this another way:

In a perfect world, religion and spirituality are linked. Religious activity SHOULD be based on one's spiritual connection with God, (though, I admit, many times it's not). As I mentioned before "religion" is the practice of norms, rules, and customs (which include, but is not limited to, attending church services). Spirituality is the ACTUAL connection one has with God; which serves as a catalyst for the religious activities a person performs. Your day-to-day religious activities are an affirmation of your spiritual connection with God. Praying, for instance, is a religious activity/ritual that is performed in the name of your spiritual connection with God.

I know that you, for example, love cats. A demonstration of your love of cats would be to join an animal rights group. Essentially, you've put some PHYSICAL action behind your METAPHYSICAL love for cats. The same concept applies to God.

The problem with our society is that many of us use spirituality and religion as mutually exclusive things. We perform religious activities with NO spirituality behind it or we are 'spiritual' people, but don't perform any activities to affirm our spirituality.

That's what I meant by the "one can't exist without the other" line.

I hope that makes sense.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by. Seeing your name always puts an ear-to-ear smile on my face.

green eyed girl on planet earth said...

Greeneyedman with sweet words

You certainly have a way with words and I suspect with the LADIES if you are as smooth and flattering with them as you are here:) have to admit , it is nice to see your face on my blog as well ,and I look forward to what interesting new topic you'll have ANDRE~IZED ;0

Cats , how'd ya know LMAO

I do get your point , and really got it the first time , just wanted to clarify exactly your stand , I agree somewhat but also feel it possible to have a spiritual connection without any religous input ever , not common but it does occur and you can also be disonnected with "your' Church but have a relationship with God without all the rituals we learn at our Mother/Father knee ,or in the schools . anyway , Goverment has taken Religion out of the schools and today is a new breed of youths that unless taught at home {if lucky} they have no faith, religon,spirituality or interest , not all but many so this backs part of your opinion .Hopefully at some point someone will at least introduce them to a life with God , through Church or otherwise , just as long as it happens.
wishing you a great day/week
Greeneyed girl in pumps :)