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.



Rick Diamond said...

BOOOOOOOOOMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!! You are a total stud.

robyn said...

You hit the nail on the head. Several years ago, my husband and I joined a (Baptist) church and became very active there. I only mention it was Baptist because of your experience, it could have been any denomination I'm sure. We were there every Sunday morning, evening, and Wednesday night. We led a prayer group and were involved with many ministries. My husband suffers from depression and many health problems and we started to miss a Sunday here and there. Well, to make a long story short, our church family (who we thought were friends) started to treat us differently. They were very cool toward us and don't even acknowledge us now. We have let them down because we didn't live up to their expectations. Shunned might even be a good word. These people told me that during the darkest time of my husband's depression when we were not there, he could have done better and been there anyway. Do I need to mention how this has affected my thoughts about "church"? We do not attend church there anymore. I still have a relationship with my Savior and I have been wrestling with this issue with Him for quite some time now. If the church is supposed to be bringing people in to God's love, then throwing them away when they don't live up to other people's standards, I'm not at all surprised that 80% of people do not attend church anywhere. We talk about looking for another church home, to be honest we are afraid. Rejection hurts and it's been a long time and we are still trying to get past it. God did not let us down, people did. I'm working with God's help to try to find something good to come out of it. My attitude has changed a lot of what it means to be a Christian, going to church does not define a Christian. Sorry to go on so long, guess I just needed to get this out.

nonprofitprophet said...

Robyn, thanks for your comments. I completely get it. Unfortunately I have heard this story much too often. You are right it doesn't just lend itself to the Baptist denomination, though that denomination seems to create more than its fair share. Religion by fear, guilt and unmet expectations is a religion I can frankly do without. Christianity is not that religion, but the things people do with it and the crazy doctines and expectations they create make it appears so. I would urge you to find a healthy church, which is difficult. Just remember that all churches have one fault, they have people in them. And like anywhere people can be great and not so great at the same time. But in my hardest moments, I was grateful for the presence of my circle of faith/friends who were just there. ~npp