Saturday, February 16, 2013

More Lessons from a Soup Kitchen

The last time I worked the soup kitchen, and I wrote about that event was bizarre. I act as host and different churches prepared the dinner.  The last time a motorcycle church did the cooking. There was constant "God chatter,"  usually thinly veiled self praises. "God gave me the gift of always doing the right thing and always making the correct decision, so I give Him the praise for the abundant wisdom He has given me."  You get the picture. But I also felt a deep sense of Christ-o-narcissism.  They were  mad at me that it was too cold, mad at me that things just weren't right in the kitchen . . . and worst of all . . . they lost a bag of money and accused me of stealing it. They called the police and it was a mess until they found their bag of money.

But this time things went well.  People were sincere and worked hard. But one thing was said that has put me in a contemplative mood for a few days.

My wife always helps me, even though she doesn't go to my church.  As I was washing dishes, a man from the serving church was talking to her.  The noise of the dishwasher was drowning out most of what they were saying. Then they turned to me and my wife asked, "Why do we go to separate churches?"

I hate that question from strangers and it seems to always come up when we do the soup kitchen work.  There is often, as was the other night, the superficial statement that "it isn't healthy for a couple to go to different churches."  It would be so tempting and I think maybe the right thing to say is simply, "God led us to different churches."  That is weak but evangelicals are use to playing the "God told me to do it" card to get off the witness stand.

I tried to sum up a difficult situation with the simple words that I was often told that I couldn't be a real Christian unless I believed that the earth was 6,000 years old and other extra-biblical baggage. I didn't dare mention one of the main reasons I left was the pastor ran the church like a cult.  He was absolute authority and no one questioned him.  I saw him questioned once and he was like the incredible hulk and morphed into a raging animal . . . the same way he reacted to me after I told him I was leaving.  The same way he relates to, and berates his wife.  But that's another story.  I explained to the church man at the  soup kitchen that my wife decided to stay because she had so many friends there.

Then the man said something that really got me thinking. "I bet you have no friends.  I say this because men who think a lot, question a lot, and put that above friendships . . . usually are friendless."

My wife quickly agreed with the man . . . that I am friendless.

I've written about this before too.  No one on this planet desires friendships more than I do.  I deeply miss the friendships of days, like when I was in college and had roommates.  But now?  If I were to die, I think they could house my funeral in one of those smaller storage units.  My wife? She would need a cathedral. I know I sound a little melodramatic, but I think it is true.

The really odd thing about this is that I spend my entire 10 hour day with people, talking about their most personal problems and issues. But in their eyes, I'm not a person . . . I am inanimate. The conversation is strictly one way.  I sit, I hold their hand and sometimes cry with them while I listen. But it isn't a relationship or friendship.  They wouldn't hesitate to write me, which some have,  horribly angry letters, like when the doors to our building got accidentally locked, or when I wouldn't prescribe enough pain pills that could get someone addicted or a patient's copay went from $20 to $30 a visit.  The letters are vicious as if my heart was made of silicon. So, while I have 1,200 patients, and I am consumed with helping each one to get well I know the reality that I am nothing
more to them than a means to an end . . . not a personal friend.

But I wonder why, what the church man in the soup kitchen is right?  I mean, I am a very skeptical person . . . but I don't wear my skepticism on my sleeves.  When I sit and listen to people spouting nonsense, I'm not like the Sheldon character on Big Bang Theory ( in cause you've never seen it, he is an arrogant super-smart astrophysicist) where I quickly correct people.  I sat in my old church week after week listening to people spouting how real Christians, men of God, reject the old-earth crap etc.  I only spoke once after enduring six weeks of brain crushing pseudoscience.

I don't know what it means.  I watch my wife operate and win friends.  She possess a skill that I don't understand and a talent that I don't have. Maybe it isn't me offending people by doubting them (which I keep to myself) but my lack of enthusiasm when they describe how God led them to a message on a piece of news paper laying on the street that had a car ad, and it was proof to them that God wanted them to buy a new car. My eyes glass over. But then, when it is my turn to speak, and I start talking about some story I heard on NPR, a discovery of sedimentary rock formations on Mars and I have great excitement in my voice . . . and their eyes glass over as something totally insignificant and of this world . . . that our attempts to connect are aborted. But I accept the blame for the loneliness, it is my social awkwardness. 


surfdawg said...

I've been missing your posts! I can relate to this one because I am in the same boat. I have a couple of close friends that I've learned not to state my opinions on the spoon-fed conservative christian mantra that they are very vocal about. It's not that I avoid debate or even confrontation, I just want to continue our friendship. I'm a christian but unable to discuss a different viewpoint with them or any of my church family. My wife is the only one I can freely talk with, but even she has difficulty thinking beyond the status quo. Thank you for your honest blog, keep it up.

Anna A said...


While I suspect that you might be right about how many at your funeral, I also suspect that there will be a very large crowd waiting to greet you in heaven.

I feel the same way myself, wondering if my services at my church are really making a difference.

But, I count myself lucky that I can be bi-parishional. One I count as home, one where I serve.

I, too, would love to have people to share my deepest thoughts, especially since my church got a big shaking when Pope Benedict decided (wisely, in my eyes) to renounce the Papacy.

jmj said...

I must admit, in my case, that much of it is my own lack of social skills.

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head with this one. I relate completely. Your writing is extremely encouraging.