Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Red Bricks of Righteousness

I grew up in a small town in East Texas that was typical of so many small towns in 1970s America. Segregated by unofficial boundary lines, the black folks lived in their section of town and the white folks lived in the other sections of town. Common ground was the small main street where the local businesses were established where people could go and buy there food at the local affiliated food store, fabric for sewing at the department store and whatever tools you needed at the hardware store.

The other common thing was that the two main churches in town, the United Methodist Church and the First Baptist Church, were deadset in the middle of the town. On the same block. Side by side. This, as they say, is the other segregation in small towns. Denominationalism. Though the black folks had their churches and the white folks had theirs, these two churches represented the mainstream of the town. Folks that Monday through Saturday were friends and neighbors and coworkers, found themselves filing into two different buildings on the same block of land each Sunday morning for worship, then filing back out at noon...eyeballing each other as if to say "what in the world are ya'll doing over there?".

And I was struck by the mere construction of these two building standing side by side. The Methodist Church had orange colored bricks and the Baptist Church had Red Bricks. Over the years as I drive through small towns I notice this pattern is duplicated. Red Bricks for Baptist Churches and Orange colored bricks for Methodist Churches.

Most of the town went to the Baptist Church. We did not. We attended the United Methodist Church. As a child I really didn't know what the difference was nor why some went next door while some went where I did. Or make that where my parents made me go. All I can really recall is that the long awaited vacation bible school week each summer seemed to divide us even further. While we sang songs about peace and love and made nifty little crafts out of penny's, peacock feathers and broken glass, the Baptists next door would have a snow cone machine and a clown and promises of salvation. Later in life I found out that my mother would try to work it out with that church to schedule our VBS on different weeks so that folks could attend both. But after she would tell them what week ours was planned, they would plan theirs the same week. Competition. They had the truth so they would put their money where their mouths were and it worked. Children would rather go where there is a snow cone machine and a clown instead of where there were peace songs about a loving God and craft projects. My youngest sister attended some function there as a child with her friend, and later we received a call that she had "gotten saved" and they wanted to know if she could start coming to sunday school. My parents were pissed.

Later, in my high school days, I dated a girl that attended the church next door. My first major crush. I was the president of our youth group (sometimes that group consisted of me, sometimes it had a few more) and I had a job at the local grocery store where I worked after school and weekends to pay for my car, which of course was a cool car with loud pipes and big tires in back with raised white letter tires and after market wheels. My hair was a little long and I always wore glasses that were tinted, so, uh, I would look cool. yes thats it. And I recall picking her up one day after church and going to lunch and there was a young man/adult standing beside her who gave me a disapproving look, said something to her, then walked away. She informed me that was her youth pastor who had asked her why she wanted to date a scumbag. I was floored. I had never up until that day been judged by someone who knew nothing about me except for what he perceived from a distance. And it left a bad taste in my mouth that lasts even today. And I started noticing the differences in those who attended the two churches. Words like judgemental, hypocritical and holier-than-thou now reside side by side with the term Baptist in my mind, forever etched. For you see I began paying attention to what they were doing Monday through Saturday then observing them on Sundays, and it didn't match up.

Many years has passed now since that occurred, but my opinion of those type folks has not. And its not all
Baptists (but they are in the lead according to my tally sheet). I know that people make mistakes in their own faith journey (lord knows I have - pun intended), and we can really do some stupid things as christians. We try to give advice that we think is Godly but in reality is actually hurtful. We say things like "well he is in a better place now", "God needed a little angel" or "I guess it was God's Will" after someone dies. We say things like "If you just had more faith", "Prayed harder" or "was a better person this wouldn't have happened to you". We try to save the cute little blonde girls in our youth group by telling them their date is a scumbag, though we do not know them. We caste stones from glass houses and point out specks in other's eyes.

Here's a bit of advice. Shut the hell up. yes. Seriously. If thats the best you have to offer then just keep it to yourself. But if you really want to help, just be there. You don't have to do anything. Say anything. Just love on folks. They are hurting enough as it is. St Francis said "preach the gospel at all times using words only if necessary". Bro. Lawrence wrote a book called "practicing the presence". Maybe model Jesus. Try those approaches. We have enough pharisees already.

The world looks a lot different outside the walls of those Red Bricks of Righteousness.