My husband gently reminds me when I weigh in on social media debates, that “I’m getting embroiled in the mess again”. Then I feel silly and try to back out of the debate ensuing on my facebook feed. But by that time my brain is already somehow staring at the digital car crash, and I can’t look away. Have you been there?
In the last 48 hours, I observed humans, supposedly Christians, tear into people whom they don’t really know in cruel and damning ways over worship music. I mean, again with the demon guitar?!? This was the special kind of argument that people from my faith tradition seem to flock to like rats fighting over a cheeto. You can pick people from my heritage out pretty easily. They were dismissive, condescending, steeped in pharisaical legalism, down right mean at times, sure that you are going to hell, and painfully lacking on two particularly big deals to Jesus: grace and mercy. The ones who were absolutely sure of their righteousness just straight up ignored logic and common sense revealing their god of tradition; their god of absolute obedience to their creed (though they would deny having a creed). My heart broke for them as they are slaves and don’t even see it.
I grew up with this kind of religion. The kind that is sure the baptists across the street are all bound to burn for eternity, but somehow were sure that our way got all the sacred texts right… because we don’t use a piano and use just the right words during a baptism. I once heard about a kid that had to be baptized four times at bible camp because his toe kept rising above the water and the people watching were sure that baptism didn’t take if his toe didn’t go under with the rest of him. Yep, those are my people. They’ll drown you just to make a point.
Anyway, I was “embroiled” as my sweet husband says. I’d like to say in my defense, that I sincerely forgot that some of us white knuckle our biblical interpretation and honestly feel justified in our harsh judgement of others who are working out their own salvation. Nevermind the scriptures about judging others. We ignore those where I come from. We ignore quite a few actually, but there is NO piano. So we are good.
The funniest, yet most poignant, comment I read on the “embroiled” thread was “the church invented cancel culture”. Sadly, so true.
So here’s where I’m the loser, if you hadn’t already assumed as much. While I was embroiled in this mess of legalism and white washed tombs destroying others with rhetoric and biblical violence, my husband was having a bible study with an old friend over the phone. But his experience was quite different than mine. They are working through the book of James together. His friend confessed that he was struggling with the verses in James about showing favoritism because, as an animal lover, sometimes he shows favoritism to his beloved dog over his other pets. He was sincere. He was child-like. He wanted to make sure he was doing what he should do in every way. My husband told me this story and I felt ashamed of myself and of my people, frankly. I wished I had been a part of that conversation rather than my trivial facebook nonsense where no one’s heart was changed or even challenged.
My guess is, if I were to show these threads of embittered church-y battles to my husband’s friend, he would be really confused and definitely not want to join our ranks. He would take one look at the sacred words of James he is reading for the first time ever and hold them up to compare them to us and not see any similarities at all.
I love the church. I do. I love my heritage, though I probably would never be fully accepted by them as both a woman and a heretic now. I guess I’m just sick of watching “believers” destroy one another and then offer bible studies to those of us who sing Hillsong worship songs instead of Fanny Crosby Hymns to assist us in getting us back on the straight and narrow. (Actually happened in the thread. To paraphrase, “You’re going to hell for using that piano during Amazing Grace. Let’s have a bible study!”)
My encouragement to you if you have never read scripture is to start. Please forgive the hateful pharisees. Give them grace. They honestly don’t get it. Please don’t pick up a King James or an American Standard to get started. You won’t understand it. I’m not being condescending. I don’t understand those versions, and I teethed on the back of a church pew, was a preacher’s daughter and married a minister. Grab an NIV or, my personal favorite, a NLT. Start with James, and then try the gospel of Mark. I’m happy to message with you if you need someone to talk to. If you have questions, I will do my best, but I don’t have all the answers.
My encouragement to you if you were raised the way I was and going to worship is more like a box to check or a place to remind yourself that you are right, please start again. My biggest spiritual awakening and change came when I decided to completely walk away from everything I thought I knew and just read the bible again. I had to ask myself why I believed what I did a lot. I befriended people who believed very differently from me. One of the biggest spiritual giants in my life was widowed Catholic lady. She challenged me without making me agree with everything she believed. My eyes were opened. Faith over fear. If you seek God, He won’t fail you.
Above all, be kind. Be humble. Be open to the Spirit of God.