When I speak of overlays, I can quickly come up with two examples. With each one, Holden would call the participants (including myself) phonies. Solomon would say that it is all smoke and mirrors and chasing after the wind.
I will use myself as the first example. I know that I already talked about this in a previous posting, but it was about my invitation to come to Haiti and help with earthquake relief. I work with a disaster relief organization and I got the call within hours of the quake. I eventually gave up my slot on the initial team to a friend, Eric, who had better skills (he has worked 20 years in trauma medicine and he had just been in Haiti a few months ago). I really thought he was a better team member than me. I had an invitation to join a second team, but I turned that one down too because it was the same week I was going to Minneapolis to see my new (and first) grandson for the very first time.
But, pulling away the over lays and speaking very candidly, it was very tempting to go on the first team. The old Evangelical Mike would have. He would have convinced himself that was what God wanted him to do. But, if I really care for the Haiti people, and only 12 people could be on the team, then Eric would be in a much better position to save a life than I would. If it had been an Arabic speaking country, then I would have gone due to my language and cultural knowledge.
But the reason that going to Haiti was so tempting, and the old Mike would have gone, is for the glory. Even in the very best of situations, being a missionary, or doing relief work is motivated in a large part by the glory. I’ve struggled with jealously too as Eric was interviewed on a national radio program and is a cover story on one of our national medical journals. I wanted to be that hero. I wanted the photos to be of me holding the sick baby.
The old Mike would have gone and then done a speaking tour of local churches. I would show my slides and talk of miracles. How God spared the life of one baby or one man (with a thin veil over the point that it was really me who had save that person). I would look over look the fact (if I really believed that God did this . . . which I don’t) that 250,000 men women and children died horrible deaths. If it came up, I would figure out somehow to blame the victims like Pat Robertson (to get God off the hook). Yeah. . . I know Holden, a pure phony.
Solomon would say that all great works of charity are chasing after the wind. That people do it for glory and when the bands stop playing, they are alone again with their miserable selves. Did you read Mother Teresa’s letters of doubt that were found after her death? Now I want to make it clear that the reason I didn’t go to Haiti wasn’t because I didn’t have the right motives. None of us have ever done a single out of pure motives. Maybe 10% is for altruistic reasons. But it doesn’t matter what the motives are . . . good can come out of bad.
Then, my next example is about church (with a small c). I recently heard two different pastors say that the solution to particular problems (one pastor was talking about the dysfunctional family and I think the other one was talking about being happy) was being very involved with a local church. But I want to remove the overlay of their motives. I’m not saying this as a cruel, cynical church hater. I've gone to church faithfully my entire life. I’m not speaking from the same mind set as Gene Edwards, whose books I used to read and sermons I use to listen to. He was a great house church proponent. I, in my searching, visited one of his house churches in Denver. He hated the organized church. But it didn’t take me long to realize that he was a self promoting, narcissistic man with his own agenda and his house churches were quickly becoming cults. But he said he would love to see every organized church in America burned to the ground. I’m not saying anything like that. All I am saying is that we are all phonies, because of the Fall. We all do things for impure motives. We don’t need to stop doing them. We can’t stop living (which I think is what Holden wanted to do . . . you know, “Throw my dead body in the river” thinking). No, I’m saying us keep going to church. Let’s keep doing humanitarian work but us do it honestly.
Back to the two pastors points about “getting involved in the church.” Maybe a little motive-deconstruction is due.
Denise accuses me of passing judgement on other peoples’s motives and that I should not do that because there is no way for me to know. I agree in part. Yet, I as a fellow-fallen-human, do have some credibility for passing judgement. The reason is that I think we are all made of the same stuff and I often am deconstructing my own motives.
So for the pastors who tell people that the answer to their problems is to be move involved in the local church is the same motive (in a large part) as the owner of a Walmart telling people in the community that the answer to their economic problems is to shop at Walmart, or the president of a particular University tells people that the answer to their life-goal, or education problems is to come to their college. The reason? If everyone left the local church, that pastor would no longer have a career or a reputation. A successful church also reflects very personally on the pastor’s own self-esteem. Now every single pastor wraps this call to come to church in obscure scriptures trying to turn it into a new command, “Thou shalt get in involved with the local church programs or God will be really disappointed in you.” I think they call that spiritual manipulation.
If you really boil it down, I think that the motive why most people go to church is for penitence. We go to; a.) please our co-church goers (making them think we are decent people), b.) to make ourselves think that we are more pleasing God. A secondary motive is to socialize with our friends and to be part of a social network in the same spirit as someone belonging to the Kiwanis or Rotary clubs. These are not evil motives. But they are honest motives. Wouldn’t it be great to go to church because the community there encourages us and we support each other there? I know that does happen, rarely, in some churches. It would be fine to go and to learn more about scripture, but not in the context of a “service” that suppose to please God as an act of penitence. And who came up with the idea that if you are not “learning” something new every Sunday that you are not in touch with God. When you first become a Christian, there is lots to learn. But when you’ve been a Christian for decades, I think it is crazy to expect to hear a lecture Sunday after Sunday and you suppose to take home something new each time.
I missed church completely last Sunday, which the once or twice I will do so this year. I had planned on going to the Presbyterian Church’s early service. However, Denise has a cold and coughed a good part of the night, keeping me awake. Then she got up at 6 AM to go to work. I finally fell asleep after she left for work and I did not wake up until 9:30 when Ramsey was yelling at me, “Aren’t you going to church?”
So I did the real Sabbath thing of resting. I sat in the hot tub and read. Then I went out for coffee. It was a wonderful restful day and far more Biblical than how I spend most Sundays. However, despite my deep views about church etc., I felt very guilty being home. “Going to church” has been embedded into my brain from my Bible-belt youth.
I know this is getting long but I have not posted in a while. There is one more example where I would like to peel back the overylays and deconstruct some motives when it comes to church.
When I was involved with the Navigators as an under graduate there was a gradual moving away from the local church (for a while). The reason was, we realized that we were doing a lot more learning and encouraging each other in our Navigator group than what was happening at the local church.
A few Navigator staff people in our area started to discourage people from getting involved with the local church because the local church seem to only be a distraction (asking people to give to pave the parking lot, come several nights a week to sing in the choir and etc.).
But then one day a team came out from Nav headquarters and met with the regional staff. The order from headquarters is for all staff to get very involved with the local church (becoming elders, deacons and etc.). I could share with you pages of spiritual “reasons” given by those staff. But (and I remember this conversation well) the true, honest reason whispered to me . . . it was money. The headquarters were fearful that if they alienated local churches (and there were some pastors writing negative things about the Navigators at the time because they were pulling back from the local church) that a lot, and hell of a lot, of money would dry up. The Navs figured that a huge proportion of their donor income came from churches (either directly or from members). The Navs then, in response, created a department just for connecting with the local church. They gave spiritual reasons for those connections “God has always worked through the local church and we want to be part of what God is doing.” But the real reason was $$$$$$.
If you don’t know me, you will think I’m being harsh at the Navigators. I am not . . . at least not selectively. I, like Holden or maybe Solomon, am saying that this type of fake motives is the norm for all of us and no Christian or Christian group is exempt. This is how we function in life, including our Christian endeavors. I’m not saying that those who have imperfect motives are the bad guys and I’m a good guy. Good heavens no! I’m saying we are all bad guys (due to the Fall) but we are all completely forgiven. I’m also not saying, like Holden, that it is all worthless and that everyone is a sonofabitch. No. I’m just saying that we should attempt to live more honestly. Let’s go to church Sunday morning but us be honest about why we are going. Let’s go to earthquake areas but don’t pretend that it is all spiritual.
I had a good friend who died last year. His son, who is about 19, has left the church. His mom said that her son said that he left the church because he just “wanted to know the truth and he was tired of being lied to.” She rolled her eyes when she told me. But I have deep respect for him. I know exactly what he is saying. He has seen beneath the overlays. He knows that much of what we do is pretend. The real God loves truth. That’s why I believe that we keep on pretending that people will continue leaving and getting hurt.