Saturday, March 22, 2008

Good sinners Bad sinners

For someone who identifies his conflict style as an “Avoider” I sure seem to find my way into a lot of fights.

I’m still dealing with anger at the church about the fact that I called my Lent study “God and Guiness” and held it at a pub. The letter I wrote to the Promoter in support of the C.U.P.E. strikers led someone to hork on the windscreen of my truck. My sister calls me this week upset about something I wrote. You’d think that’d be enough – that I wouldn’t need to go looking for trouble.

But there I was, on foot, across the Bobcaygeon bridges, with ten minutes on my hands before Tai Chi started. It was right there. It had been on my to do list for a few weeks – dropping by to ask the owner of the hotel about her rationale for kicking out our God and Guiness group. I wanted to hear it for myself. I still really couldn’t believe it happened. And I wanted to do it because- well - I am afraid of confrontations - and that’s why I needed to do it.

It was mid afternoon and the place was empty. I asked the waitress for the owner. She came out from the back and didn’t seem too pleased to see me. I told her I just wanted to check in with her about why she had asked our group to leave.

“Most of your group only drinks tea and I can’t afford to heat the place and keep a waitress on for tea drinkers.” she replied flatly.

“Oh” I said “because I thought it had something to do with the fact that we were a church discussion group.”

“Yes - it’s not appropriate to be discussing the Bible and God in a bar. My customers might be swearing and carrying on and they don’t need you people making faces at them. You have your church for talking God and a bar is not the place for that. You should know better.”

“Do you know where Jesus spent his time?” I asked.

She threw her shoulders back “Don’t you be telling me about Jesus. I have my Jesus and I don’t need you preaching at me!”

“Okay” I said on the defensive now “I’m not here to preach at you. I understand about the financial thing. I just don’t understand about the God thing.” and I left slowly and calmly. I didn’t slam the door behind me – mad about the rejection. Mostly I was just sad.

She had confirmed my suspicions. It wasn’t that she was a non-believer and hostile towards believers. No, she was a religious person. It seemed like somewhere she’d been given a good dose of the kind of religion that separates the world into good and bad. Good people go to church and Bad people go to Hell – but in the mean time they spend their time in bars playing darts.
I’ve spent enough time in bars talking about God to know that the people there don’t really believe that. They just believe that Church people believe that. Many of them have run up against Religious people who get their personal power from telling others about how they don’t measure up. That’s gotta hurt. Deep childhood wounds from people who are supposed to be close to God. Adolescent scars from authority figures. Adult bruises from neighbours or co-workers.

What my Hotel owner friend was doing was keeping her Sanctuary a safe place. Safe for all those bad people to get together and talk about the good, bad, and ugly of their week. Connect with each others lives. Talk about what really matters and talk about silly, inconsequential things. Exactly what happens in the coffee hour on Sunday mornings in churches. (caffeine is a drug too y’know?)

In church, a preacher will often say “we’re all sinners in the eyes of God.” To me, this is supposed to mean that there is no such thing as good sinners and bad sinners – just sinners. In other words – just people. God sees us all the same. So what’s the difference between those who Jesus has saved and those who need saving?

The scriptures are pretty clear. Judgement is a tricky business and best left up to God. Jesus puts it flatly – just because you call out “Lord, Lord” – doesn’t mean I’ll recognize you as one of mine.” (Matthew 7:21, Luke 6:46)

Humility and compassion are the true signs of a follower of Jesus. Those who have put their judgments and egos into Christ’s hands are saved from a world where religion and prejudice and ignorance divide us up into good and bad. I thought that Jesus’ death was supposed to break the power of sin over our lives – our obsession with whether or not we’re good or bad – and turn our hearts instead to the power of love in every one of us.

The triumph of the Resurrection is that nothing can stop a community founded in love and compassion. A group of people dedicated to healing, justice and wholeness – with soft hearts and humble spirits – who depend on a power beyond their own – cannot be stopped – cannot die because it draws from the source of life – it lives on love.

For such a community there is no such thing as an outsider and an insider. Only those who understand that there is not out or in – and those who haven’t yet grasped the gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ.

My Dad almost choked on his Good Friday lunch when I told him the story of our God and Guiness Lent study group. The old Pastor had a good chuckle. “You try to do something good – reach outside the church - and you get it from both sides!”

Rejection, anger, confusion. Hard to avoid if you try to follow Jesus. A good sense of humour sure helps.

1 comment:

Northern Chirp said...

Interesting experience, Al. Brave of you to go back. And interesting reflection on it. I guess we've grown to expect we'll be judged and found wanting at church. Well, maybe (hopefully) we don't all expect it, but sadly, it doesn't surprise us that much. But we surely don't expect to encounter than kind of holier-than-thou response in a bar. (I notice you didn't mention the SwingBridge incident, though.)
Blessings from way up north, where many are cold, but few are frozen. -John