Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On Departing, and Parting Ways, Pt. 1


I'm a little nervous, writing this, because I have so very much to say that I'm not sure how to pick and choose what to include.  Also because parting ways is a sensitive topic, and I know I need to exercise care in writing about it.  But it's on the forefront of my mind because...

One of my small groups has but two remaining sessions of our current study, and I thought we might read Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, next.  I follow Voskamp's blog but haven't yet made it past the second chapter of her book, and--thinking I might just read her book along with the others in my group--I decided to do the reponsible thing and read some reviews.

Let me tell you, there is some harsh criticism out there: not just of the book, but of Ann Voskamp's theology.  By other Christians

Now, Ann Voskamp doesn't need me to defend her book or her theology; are you kidding me?  So I'm not even going to try.  Again, I haven't finished reading her book.  I have read enough of her blog posts to believe she's as Christian as the most Christian person I know, personally.

Which begs the question: why do other Christians feel the need for such harsh criticism?  Do they truly believe Ann Voskamp is, with her words, doing more harm than good?  Drawing others, perhaps, toward hell (instead of heaven) with her poetic prose?  Because, if not, why don't they close their copies of her book quietly, drop them off at Good Will, and use their energy to win souls for Christ (instead of to warn others about Voskamp's book and theology)?

Here's the thing.  When people accept Christ as their Savior, Christ doesn't change them all at once.  If He did, their heads would pop off!  Growing in Christ is a long (lifelong!), slow process, and every Christian is at a different place on his or her journey.  People come to Christ for different reasons and remain with Christ for different reasons. 

Ann Voskamp isn't going to reach everyone.  I would ask the critics: if she doesn't reach you, can you not feel happy she's reaching someone else?  Perhaps her theology is different than yours, but I wonder how much really matters beyond: Christ shed His blood and died for my sins, and please learn more about that, and Him, by reading the Bible?

If someone else departs from our ideas of how things "should be done," or even our very theology, can we not part ways, well?  If the blood of Jesus covers, can't we quietly "hide" or "defriend" on facebook?  Can't we avoid the blog?  Close the book?  Can't we decide, simply, to stop answering the phone or e-mail?  Can't we slide out the door and find ourselves a new church?  And, if questioned, can't we say, simply and sweetly: it just wasn't quite right for me?

To borrow a phrase from Pastor David, I'm stepping on my own toes.  Really, I am.  One of my favorite things to say about someone who has what I would call a "funny idea" is: (s)he ain't got no sense.  I say it, often, and sometimes I say it about fellow believers.

But, truth be told, I ain't got no sense, either.

According to Isaiah 64:6: "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags."  That includes the righteousness of the Pope, y'all.  And of Mother Teresa, while she was alive.  And of my dearly departed Mister Rogers.  It includes my righteousness.  Filthy.

So much of it is a matter of prayer.  I don't believe we'll always be called to part ways.  Sometimes we'll be called to speak truth, in love.  Sometimes we'll be called to help, to fix, to make a difference.  Sometimes we'll be called to do a combination, thereof.

I think of my former church.  After I remarried, it wasn't quite right for me, anymore, but it took about eighteen months for me to move past my grief and leave.  And, even then, I didn't slide out: I went to my former pastor and bawled in his office.  I told him where I was going and why, and I asked if I could continue serving at his church. 

It makes me cry to think of his grace, in that moment.

In the past two years, I have attended three services at my former church: a child dedication, a marriage-vow renewal, and a funeral.  But I host two of that church's small groups here, in my house.  I feed its people.  I pray with its people. 

A couple weeks ago, I asked my new stylist if she attends church, and we talked for awhile.  When she explained where she is in her walk, I recommended my former church.

I am rooted at my current church.  Pastor David has my allegiance.  But Pastor Brian has given me the freedom to live out God's calling on my life at his church: even if that means I'm gone but, somehow, still there.

If the blood of Jesus covers, shouldn't we all be working together?  Doesn't The Church matter more than a church?

Two closing thoughts for someone whose ideas or theology is offensive to someone else: 1) Perhaps best not to say, ever: "If you don't like me the way I am, kiss my you-know-what."  Or: "If you don't like it, just leave."  Because perhaps the parting of ways can be avoided.  Or because the parting of ways, while imminent, is grieving the person to whom you're speaking, and your words (even if, ultimately, wise!) will cause further pain.  2) Consider this quote from Theodore Roosevelt (and, no, I don't know his theology, and in sharing this quote I am in no way proclaiming I like everything he ever thought, or wrote):

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Let's all just do our Jesus thing where we are, in the way we think best.  Let's get out of each others' way and win souls for Christ!  We're not really wrestling against one another, anyway (Ephesians 6:12); we are being pitted against one another by evil...

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