“I was a mess.”
Present company included, how many of us have said that exact phrase in retrospect at one time or another (it’s rhetorical, so no question mark needed here). Yet I often wonder when we deem ourselves officially un-messy and on the other side, how many of us stop and contemplate what got us there in the first place.
Unfortunately, many times I think that’s also a rhetorical question – again, present company included. There for a while when I had sort of a cringe-worthy stretch going, I used to say, “I like to make the same mistakes 5 or 6 times…just to be sure.”
Some days I think I think too much.
Other days I think I wasn’t thinking at all.
And yet, right now I think both statements equally sum up the main problems of the church. And a lot of other places, actually.
I was asked by one of my former classmates who is on staff at a church in Indiana if I would be a Keynote Speaker at a Women’s Event this September. At first I thought she was kidding. Until she said two things as I was laughing in her face: one, she could not believe that I wasn’t already public speaking on a frequent and recurring basis and two, she needed someone “edgy” since last year’s speaker was a snoozer.
WAY TO SUCK ME IN, HOLLY!
So yeah, I was in when she asked and am now feverishly trying to put this whole thing together.
Shocking though it may be, I always have a lot to say. At all times. A lot of opinions on a lot of different things. A lot of “air” as they say. Hey, if you run with me I eventually lose it and you’re in luck. But up and until then…I make no promises.
While I am passionate about many topics, nothing sets me off more than ridiculous treatment of humanity, i.e. when someone who knows better takes advantage of someone who does not.
Notice I did not say “unfair treatment of women.” I’m not a feminist, racist, cyclist, or any other “-ist” you can rattle off. I am not a man-hater. Could have been. Could still choose to be, I suppose, but what a waste. Misanthropy in general is dumb. I feel sorry for people who roll that way.
Thus, when Holly asked me if I could speak about (and I quote), “True Beauty – Understanding our identity in Christ, confidence in Christ, who we are vs. what we do, etc.” it not only hit way too close to home, it scared me.
So I said yes. Because some schmoozy intellectual at some point said, “You know if it scares you it’s what you should be doing. Getting out of your comfort zone equals growth.”
Huh. Really? Are churches in America growing?
This edgy non-misandrist thinks not.
I told Holly under no circumstance at any point during the conference would I be mentioning Proverbs 31 . No one really cares who King Lemuel was (the guy who recounted it after gasp! his female mother taught it to him), proverbs are mostly pithy little sayings that people who aren’t living the way they prescribe or don’t see those things happening in their lives like to argue about, and most importantly, like I ever want to sell quilted backpacks.
(Don’t turn all misogynistic on me for saying that. Or whatever the equivalent of women-hating-women is. Middle school, I guess.)
I mean no disrespect, because clearly, if only, right? If only we could all be that woman. It’s the right idea. Let’s leave it at that.
Instead, I told Holly the themed verse should be 1 John 4:4. I have the Greater One living in me; greater is He Who is in me than he who is in the world.
That’s kinda paraphrased, here’s exactly how the NIV translation reads: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
What does it mean? Well, I will tell you from both the women’s conference and problems within churches today contexts in a second. But from the text, here’s what John meant to his initial audience:
He was speaking about false teachers in verses 1-3, offering reassurance. He referred to them as “little children,” using the same Greek phrasing he did earlier in Chapter 2 (1 John 2:12). He then offers four words of comfort concerning their lives: You are from God.
- You are from God. In other words, John say them as true believers in whom God dwelled.
- He then adds that these believers have “overcome” these antichrists. John used the concept of overcoming five other times in his letter. Believers have overcome the evil one (1 John 2:13, 14) and have overcome the world (1 John 5:4-5).
- John reminds the reader that the power of Christ, who lives in the believer (i.e. Holy Spirit), is greater than [any] power of the world.
So the gist is this: it’s kind of a warning to not blindly accept all claims. There are many false teachers in the world, and it’s VITALLY IMPORTANT to carefully consider both the source and the content of anything before we accept it. And, it’s super helpful to compare it against the backdrop of the gospels…which is pretty much summed up in ONE WORD: Love.
John knew that, as he returned to that theme, explaining how believers ought to live out the presence of God’s love in their own lives since living according to God’s love takes away our fear of judgment. In no uncertain terms, those who claim to love God but hate others, are liars.
Do you know how much I would have appreciated having the assurance of “You are from God” on loop as a mantra in my head every time, as a way too young teenage girl, a boy tried to bed me down like a deer?
(Ok…is that too edgy for this conference? I may need to tweak.)
Do you know how many other girls might also appreciate knowing they are from somewhere? That they matter? That not only are they from somewhere, they are from the someone (throwing the theology out for a quick second) who loves them a thousand percent times a zillion percent unconditionally?
That’s where the conference is heading. The One who is in you is greater than…
All the rest. Insert your High School boyfriend(s), college mistake(s), ex-husband(s), pick a person(s), here.
The name of the conference is Greater Than, Less Than – as in how many times have we all felt “less than” what we truly are and were made to be because we believed false claims? Whether those claims came from some hormonal 15-year-old boy, an HR nightmare boss preying on young college-aged girls, a married man who has fallen away, or – our own self-imposed and impossible to reach expectations (Hey, anybody wanna buy a quilted backpack?) – the goal of this conference will be to examine our thinking, perceptions, and what it means to really be loved.
And that brings me to what I find to be the baseline problem in the church today: a lack of genuine living and selfless love – because many human beings on both sides of the pulpit have forgotten who the Greater One is. The hierarchal structure has been misaligned and inverted, and has instead been replaced with human beings putting themselves in the position of the Greater one. While this is nothing new in and of itself, social media has exacerbated this ridiculousness exponentially-fold. It makes it easy to become our own gods, or at least put on airs that make other people want to block certain newsfeeds faster than Kanye drops a new album.
So many people reached out to me after the last post, both commiserating and sharing their own insights about why the church seems to be in such a state of disarray. One of my wicked smart cohorts told me she has zero plans to leave the Catholic church in favor of another denomination, but she and her husband cannot decide which parish to join. The priest has a lot to do with it, but so does the congregation as a whole.
While she doesn’t expect any church to be perfect – because let’s state the obvious – they are led by flawed human beings just like the people who attend them, she does expect it to uphold certain standards. We all expect that. Like what church leaders and attendees are proclaiming as they instruct about how to “live better” matches what they themselves do.
Whether it’s inter-denominational or trying to find a church in general, there is a giant disconnect between words and action. An identity crisis of epic proportion. Many churches are in fact getting out of their comfort zones (i.e. popcorn, coffee bars, Aerosmith, light-shows, yada pseudo-poser-cool yada) in an effort to draw people back in, but it is no question having the opposite effect. People can smell fake a mile away and know real love and acceptance when they receive it.
Believers ought to live out the presence of God’s love in their own lives since living according to God’s love takes away our fear of judgment.
I received a message from a great friend, commenting on this issue and reminding me of the following story:
The new pastor of a large church dressed as a homeless man and went into the sanctuary. He said hello to everyone he saw. No one responded. He asked for change to buy food. No one gave him anything. He sat in the front pew and was asked to move to the back. When the new pastor was introduced by the elders, he rose and went forward. The elders were in on what he was doing. The sermon he preached was based on Jesus’ instructions to clothe, feed, and take care of the least of our brothers and sisters. The pastor concluded with “I see a building filled with people. I don’t see any Christians here.”
After a few back and forth texts, and my friend of almost ten years concluded with:
In casting all churches in the same light, I am no better than the people in that church as I am being as or more judgmental than they. I do understand that. I just can’t face the fake nicey-nicey holier than thou attitudes.
What I think he and the rest of society turned off by churches was saying is: Those who claim to love God but hate others, are liars.
Another long-time friend sent me a message saying he related to the last post, as he and his wife ran into a situation at the church they attended for some time – the same one they have not attended in over a year. While he said he isn’t proud to admit that, he went on to say, “In some ways we have enjoyed our coffee and each other these past Sunday mornings.”
They love God…and each other and are spending time basking in the non-judgmental safety net of those relationships. I’m sure if you asked them, they’d tell you they miss “Community,” but until they find one that is not entirely dysfunctional, this is intentional time well-spent.
My daughter just returned from a Missions Trip in Colombia, South America. I know her tones, her moods, her mannerisms and facial expressions perhaps even better than she. When I looked at pictures of her on that trip, surrounded by complete strangers with whom she was praying, laughing, talking and sharing life, she was smiling with a brilliance and pureness to it that cannot be fully described. As I looked, picture after picture, I knew exactly what I was seeing: un-messy, unadulterated love.
I saw the church.
And so did everyone else. Including Olivia herself and all the other “unchurched” millennials who were there spending the kind of intentional time that Jesus did with everyone – regardless of social status, wealth, external appearances, mistakes made, or any other subjective, irrelevant thing.
No one was thinking about those things. Because truly, there is nothing else to think about.