Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Just as I am ... but you need work

OK, I'm still trying to figure out how a post about skipping church turned into a battle over the Ten Commandments. Don't think I'm ignoring you, Iztok and d.j. -- I will eventually comment on the concept of biblical inerrancy. All I'll say for now is that I disagree with both of you, although I very much appreciate what you add to the discussion.

Instead, I'd like to respond to another comment made after the last post. Rebecca wrote, "Church is like every other venue in Charlotte -- just another place for me to feel 'less than.' I will never be pretty, rich or connected. ... Don't say try another church -- they are all the same." I have no doubt that Rebecca has indeed experienced church as a place that values only those who are "pretty, rich or connected." And frankly, it infuriates me that some people want to turn what should be a haven for the broken into an exclusive social club.

Years ago, in another city, I was looking for a church to visit and chose one that was the same denomination as the church I grew up in. Dressed up in my Sunday best, I took a seat in the last pew beside a young woman in jeans and a T-shirt. I didn't think twice about her outfit, but the woman on her other side leaned over during the altar call and hissed at her, "If you ever come to this church again, be sure you dress appropriately!" The visitor looked stunned, and left in tears before the end of the hymn.

Irony alert: The hymn was "Just As I Am."

I slipped out to follow her, to tell her we weren't all like that, but she drove off before I caught up to her. I feel certain she never went back; I sure didn't. And she probably never set foot in a church again, no matter what had drawn her there that morning. Why subject herself to such disdain? I only kept looking for a church because I had experienced what it could be, what it should be.

Different Christians will have different visions of what makes a church feel like home. Some love formal liturgy, some love exuberant movement, some love analytical sermons, some love touching stories. There's room for great diversity in worship, in style, in music and, yes, in theology.

But some things are never right. A church that can't welcome the unlovely or the poor or the outcast or the visitor in blue jeans might as well lock its doors. It sure isn't following the example of Jesus.

Feel free to disagree. Or to discuss the Ten Commandments if you wish. No dress code here.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

IMO, churches are institutions of man, and will always be subject to human imperfections. You don't need a church to have a relationship with God.

One of the driving forces behind the Protestant Reformation was dissatisfaction with the church, and the notion of popes, bishops and priest acting as an intermediary between the people and the Lord. To some degree I think we may have come full circle, back to the point where *some* churches are assuming that intermediary role - which is ultimately nothing more than a naked power grab, preying on the deepest beliefs and fears of individuals.

Anonymous said...

I was impressed (still am!) with a rather new church here in Charlotte that meets in a movie theater and night club every Sunday. I spent over a year there really trying to understand what it is all about. I really enjoyed how relaxed the atmosphere is and how approachable people are. I enjoyed music (sans lyrics really) and for most of the part I enjoyed sermons as there was a value in them even if I took the God out of them for the most part. I went to more services then my religious wife did (she is sick and can't make it every Sunday). My tallest Russian daughter met many friends there and she was the one that pulled us in even before church really started. As a family we even participated in the events, I brought egg biscuits and gallons of (un)sweet tea few Sunday mornings for the staff before they started setting up the set, I even helped with setting it up few times. I really did enjoy going there.

What happened? It was done when pastor at one sermon (dedicated to other religions) mentioned atheists. Claiming we are dangerous. That was it for me I got so upset (even my wife was when I told her what he said). Why on earth would atheists be dangerous? Have you ever heard atheists car bombing? Have you ever heard atheists running planes into buildings? Suicide bombings by atheists? Killing of doctors and patients in abortion clinics? I don't think so. Yet we are the dangerous ones? Needless to say I don't think I've been back to church again. (I am going to go to the mosque this weekend as it is last weekend of Ramadan and it is our family tradition to expose new kids to other religions - this year it is first time with our foster daughter we hope to adopt.)

It was funny chain of events. When I was little I was told I am an atheist but this is not how I felt and when I came to US I did some exploring and figured out that I was agnostic really. Then I went to church and started reading the bible. After about a year of that and heavy thinking I realized that reading the bible (I have NIV, I actually checked few bible stores around this area wanting to get the Jefferson's Bible but they don't carry it and most of them didn't even know about it) and going to church made me an atheist. I guess I can say that the bible and church changed my life and for which I am grateful. The picture in my head is clearer then it ever was before I did this. The book was really an eye opener for me. It even inspired me to go to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in my search (I did this last year).

I can say going to church and reading the bible really did change my life in a very positive way. It made me who I am and getting me "out of the closet" atheist status. I even sport "Atheist - In Reason We Trust" license tag frame. This is another interesting topic as when people see it they mostly have a bad reaction and at minimum frown if not comment in a bad way, not to mention I hardly get let in when I try to merge, I did have some good reactions however and some encouragements. Observing people's faces while sporting "Born OK the first time" T-shirt at nearby amusement park is funny thing as well.

Back to the topic, I am grateful that churches that take outcasts (by means of clothes or state of mind) as they are and welcome them never the less do exist. They certainly did change my life and I am very grateful to them (despite claim I am dangerous as an atheist).

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

"But some things are never right. A church that can't welcome the unlovely or the poor or the outcast or the visitor in blue jeans might as well lock its doors. It sure isn't following the example of Jesus.

Feel free to disagree."

Don't see how anyone can disagree. Christ told us that the vitality of our faith would be shown by how we treat "the least of these." They need to see our compassion and love - which puts flesh and bones on our message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

What the guy in blue jeans is in need of is not a three-piece suit, but the gospel of Christ. For "the least of these" to see the beauty of Christ, they're going to have to see Christ in us.

Soli Deo Gloria

Rod said...

Anonymous 7:35 said "You don't need a church to have a relationship with God."

God made us for relationships. He designed us to be in relationship with Him and with each other. I don't believe we can have a complete relationship with God until we have a relationship with His other children.

The lady who chased off a jeans-clad visitor was just plain wrong. God wants our hearts dedicated to Him; not our three-piece suits.

Anonymous said...

One thing I wonder. When I see people mistreating others I tend to speak up. Why are people so afraid to publicly out people like the women in your story. The young lady left upset and Jane didn't return to that church either. Woman should have been told (by Jane?) that her comment was not appropriate and she should have been ashamed for it.

If we can't stand for our values, who else will? Poem "First they came..." by Pastor Martin Niemöller comes to mind.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.


I like your blog and its message but it is little late for the lady that left in tears and message didn't reach the women in question that wronged her.

Now granted hindsight is 20/20 but what will we do in the future? Be polite and try to follow the young lady or oust the woman that caused this?

Sincerely,
Iztok

Jane Pope said...

That's an interesting thought, Iztok. My only thought was to try to mend the hurt that had been inflicted on the woman who left, not to confront the church member. And if I had caught her, I still think that would have been the best thing to do. But I didn't reach her, so it might have been better to stay and speak up. I guess I felt that I didn't have that right, being a visitor myself (and being then of an age when it's more natural to judge and reject an institution than to act to change it).

It was certainly not my right to "oust" a member of a church I had no intention of joining. But I could have gently challenged her assumption that clothes matter more than the person.

Anonymous said...

Jane, but what right did you have to speak on behalf of the church to young lady that left? This was exactly what you were intended to do (but lady left before you had a chance). I feel if you felt you were entitled to apologize for this in its behalf you could have confronted the woman as well.

Again hindsight is 20/20 so it is really irrelevant. It is what you would have done today that matters. Visitor or not, if you see injustice you should speak up. That is my opinion. When pastor of the church talked about atheists being dangerous I've confronted him with facts showing differently. When a religious foster mother mentioned that a child shouldn't stay in our home because I don't believe in God I've told people about this and told social worker (that is working this case) that it is not of her business but if she wants to discuss I am happy to (she mentioned it to my kid not to me so I couldn't discuss this there and then). It was then suggested that my wife should mention she does go to church in order to go on this womens good side. Which I refused as I see no reason to brown nose such person. I see no reason why I would stand being persecuted by someone like that.

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

I am still confused with church and public prayer at the first place. It sounds like something Jesus didn't approve at the first place. Sermon on the Mount? Matthew 6:5-6. How could one disagree with Jesus?

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

Iztok, Jesus admonition to "pray in secret" was to warn against making a great show of one's piety, of engaging in religious exercises solely to impress other people. Jesus also commanded His followers to care for the needy, which is done most efficiently and effectively collectively; He also laid out procedures to settle disputes among believers, which also implies some sort of ecclesial structure; finally, at the Last Supper and commanded the disciples to "do this in rememberance of Me," that is, to share the Bread and Cup--something that can only be done communally.

Context is everything.

Anent the original story, about the bluejeaned visitor driven away, I would have written to the pastor describing what happened, and explaining that I had been thinking of joining that church, but if this was their idea of 'welcoming the stranger', I didn't think much of it.

D.J. said...

Good comment, anon.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

Anon, your assumption about Jesus saying doesn't make sense. Jesus did say not to pray in public. He didn't say not pray showing off (conspicuously). Peter obviously did say something different then Jesus wanted.

But I digress. The key here is we need to speak up when we see injustice. If we don't we eventually allow extremists to triumph. (This is what we are seeing in Islamic countries as well as here in US on occasion.)

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

"Peter obviously did say something different then Jesus wanted."

What does this mean?

We've discussed this passage on this blog before. As anon said, context is everything. A serious reader can clearly see Jesus' intent in Matthew 6. Let's put this one to bed. After all, this same Jesus prayed in public on several occasions - for example, the entirety of John 17. See also Luke 23:34.

Iztok, do you really have to use every post as an opportunity to attack Christianity?

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Christianity?
Are Catholics Christian?

So far a religions go, it seems ok. So far as a means to power, it seems better than most.

I recently read the book "Misquoting Jesus". It is an overview of the work, continually being done, to find the original text of the Bible.

What is curious, but not surprising, is how passages were changed to reflect current political or social truths. Remember, much copying was done by individuals.

What I find just as curious is how today church policy changes to suit the times.

Not so long ago homosexuals were 'wrong' and not allowed. Forbidden by the various churchs.

Now that has changed.

Did god give us some word? Did Jesus come down with a rewritten text?

No. Man decided to change the rules himself.

If man is able to change the rules, then the rules aren't so strict as indicated.

It seems more that religion is a reflection of man's needs and desires than a truth.

But hey, it's another avenue to subdue, manipulate and for the few, the chosen few, become rich. (see Vatican here - all else are small time)

Anonymous said...

DJ,

I am not attacking Christianity. All I am pointing out is issues with holy writ being "word of God". It is obvious that it is man made that is all I am pointing out. I am also pointing out that one can come to whatever conclusion positive (like many Christians do) or negative about the same topic using the same book if you use different sequences in the book. If you say everything is in context, how do you know which one is first and has to be explained with second or is it the other way around? I am sorry that you even feel this is an attach, 'coz in "real" world of your God unless I had chariot of fire he would already defeat me and turn me into pillar of salt or something. (He seems not to be able to defeat those with chariots of fire however.)

Anyway, your explanations would only make sense if "all y'all" would be on the same page when it comes to explaining the Bible. Obviously you are not even in the majority of Christianity when comes to your particular view, let alone in the majority of religion in the world. More people within your religion disagree with you then agree and the same goes outside, more people disagree with your religion then agree on this planet. How can YOU be so certain that you are right and not someone else with different god? Difference between you and me is that I just believe in one less god. You too are atheist when it comes to all but one god (there are hundreds of different options for you to believe and you chose - well it was chosen for you by your parents most likely - this particular one).

It is not attach on Christianity, not at all. All I am asking here really is some scientific fact on his existence or a good scientific theory of our creation. Yet nothing is ever provided. No positive evidence is provided for Intelligent Design (just look at the case in Dover, PA).

Back to the topic. Churches are prime example of what I am pointing out. If there was correct explanation (it can be only one) of the Bible we would see one type of church here, yet we all know that you guys can not even figure out between your own. And when disagreements escalate, we see killings in Northern Ireland, car bombings in Iraq, massacres in former Yugoslavia etc... all because and in the name of the religion/god. It all starts small, when people don't stand up against bullies banning jeans or forcing women wearing veils etc... it enables religious extremists to progress in their extremism.

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

Seems like there are never ANY good comments about religion or church. I happen to love being a Christian and love my church. It has been a great foundation for me and helped mold me into the person I am. I agree some places of worship do not uphold the values of our religion but give me a break... stop talking about all the BAD that Christians do... we do A LOT of good.

D.J. said...

Iztok,

Our discussions are starting to delve into the realm of counter-productivity. You say the Bible is contradictory by saying such-and-such, I interact with your criticisms, and then you say...

"Anyway, your explanations would only make sense if "all y'all" would be on the same page when it comes to explaining the Bible."

I'm not responsible for the misinterpretations of others. I'm accountable to God for how I "rightly divide the Word of truth." Sure, you can make the Bible say anything you want through eisegesis (reading into Scripture). The task of the Christian is exegesis (pulling the original intended meaning out of Scripture). There is only one intended meaning to Scripture, just as you and I intend to communicate specific things through our posts. Misinterpretation is possible, but that fault lies with the interpreter, not the material.

You think God is silly, you don't believe the Bible, you dislike church, okay. I do want to point out that you are awfully presumptious with many of your statements. You infer that my faith was chosen for me by my parents. You've never met me, yet several times you have made assumptions about me personally that are untrue. You think faith is due to the psychological conditioning of parents - tell that to the many Christian converts being killed by their families in the Muslim world.

Friend, I pray that God will work in your heart. That is my sincere desire. My purpose is not to win arguments (what good does that accomplish?) but to reasonably demonstrate the truth of Scripture. Praise be to God for his word and his love - and the grace that gives those gifts to a lousy, sinful man like me.

Soli Deo Gloria

North Carolina Mortgage said...

In Miami you will not find churches that allow this. I like that Charlotte is focused on the preacher instead of the person sitting next to you. There are a lot of churches that welcome you in Charlotte!