Recently, someone offered their services to help at a charity I am a little involved with. When extolling their virtues they started with “Well, I’m a Christian.” The rest of the pitch clearly indicated that being a Christian in and of itself qualified them for the job and that no further discussions or references would be needed.
I have a funny feeling that goes down the back of my neck when someone starts a sentence with the qualifier “I’m a Christian so….” when it is stated to mean that everything that comes afterwards will be honest, well meant and completely trustworthy. I do not think that can possibly be true.
Now this sounds like a daft example but bear with me! The other day I popped to church to pick up a couple of cake tins and a few cake stands I’d loaned to a couple for their wedding. My best mate had organised the mini-reception and had put all my loaned items off to one side in my bag. However, I found one, just one, of the cake stands, moved and labelled ‘DO NOT TOUCH’. The note was initialed with letters no one recognised. It had clearly been separated out from the rest of the loaned gear and was quite clearly, in my mind, about to be ‘appropriated’.
Now I laughed about this comedy moment in a Facebook status and was inundated with folk saying things like ‘are you sure it was yours’ (yes), ‘could they have been putting it aside for you’ (unlikely as it had been moved from its place of safekeeping by the event organiser) and other such suggestions as to why my theory was wrong (it could be….)
Those folk are sweet and well meaning but this is also where I want to yell “come on!” Sometimes, we have to call something out for what it is. This was, almost undoubtedly, an attempt to swipe my cake stand!
I admire the heart that can’t imagine anything would ever go wrong in a church, and if it does, it is clearly a mistake or well intentioned meddling. It is a measure of graciousness and generosity. It is admirable in some ways to see the best in people, but there must be a line which, when crossed, we start to be taken advantage of.
Stuff goes walk-about from our church all the time. In the past couple of years, aside from two clear break-ins, we’ve ‘lost’ a tonne of small items, handbags, mobile phones and then a ladder, a hi-fi and a fridge! So yes, I am possibly writing this with an edge of cynicism but before you think me a little overwrought over the incomplete alleged theft of a cake stand, I’ll get to my point!
Don’t we have to accept that just because we’re a bunch of Christians, nefarious behaviour in our midst is not necessarily any less likely.
Surely we can agree we are not inherently more trustworthy, more enlightened, more sacrificial or more anything than any other person on this planet.It is difficult even to argue that we are trying harder to be ‘better’ any more than anyone else. We might have different reasons for striving to behave well, but we don’t have a monopoly on changing ourselves for the better.
Aren’t we missing a big opportunity by inferring, however well intended, that our church is a totally safe place and that the behaviour of the people in it is predictable and wholly trustworthy? By refusing to believe anyone around us might be up to no good, don’t we miss when things are actually going wrong and require our attention? And, by extension, if we infer that our God will behave in predictable and understandable ways, we are surely missing something.
Andrew Marin, in his book Love is an Orientation which talks about how to build bridges with the LGBT community, outlines an approach that I think would be useful in a lot more situations.
Life is not always happy. Life doesn’t always work. God doesn’t always seem to be listening. Not every prayer is answered. Sometimes reading the Bible, going to church, or living consistently in line with Christian tradition is difficult or even unrewarding. I call these doubts and struggles the “tangible essentials” to faith because they are real experiences in the Christian life, yet even through all those frustrations a believer can still faithfully believe and be a child of God.”
Marin goes on to explain how owning up to doubts and a variety of what could be perceived as negative and positive experiences, a place is produced where believers and hopefully sceptics can find a place to be honest and open. He suggests a transparent assessment of life, love and what it means to live for God can happen when we are truthful about who we are and what we believe. There is even true unity found in our shared areas of doubt and disbelief.
It is appropriate in some cases to wrestle with an issue one on one and/or in private. But I love the approach where it is OK to sensibly question, to raise legitimate concerns, to ask difficult questions, to point out what people don’t necessarily want pointed out. And this can’t always happen behind closed doors where a wise Christian sage can try to help other Christians figure out why they feel the way they do and more often than not,get them back into line.
What kind of impact could it have if we stop trying to look like we’ve got it sorted and that no one in this church would ever nick anything/say anything hurtful/misrepresent themselves and actually show that things go wrong in church. People still steal and lie and cheat and moreover, don’t think the way “we” do. We can say, yes, sometimes we do challenge them on their behaviour rather than avoiding the conflict. But pretending a problem doesn’t exist to ensure we appear unified isn’t the way we can exist anymore.
Most of all though, how powerful is it to say, no matter what you say, do, believe and think, you are welcome anyway and we love you anyway.
I did take my cake stand home, but I sort of wish I’d left a note saying: I hope I didn’t get the intention of the note wrong. If you are in need of a cake stand, let me know and you can have mine.