Jan 29, 2009

The Church


"You guys are all into that born again thing, which is great. We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemas. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the kingdom of God, I can tell you that you have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy too."

I have heard few proclamations in my entire life (granted, I'm only 20, but still) that have hit with as much of an impact as the above quote of a quote from a guy that is found in The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. Hmmmm, I wonder if the modern churches have thought about that.

My husband came home yesterday after working at his internship and posed a question I wasn't quite expecting. "Ellie, have you ever seen me cry?" No, I haven't. I quickly wheeled around in my chair to search his face for news of a disaster that I may have missed, especially since he said he cried during most of the drive home from his internship. I have only known the man for three and a half years, but I know that is unlike him. I almost didn't think he could cry. An explanation was soon forthcoming: during his drive, he had seen three homeless people sitting on sidewalks. A depressing sight any day, especially a day at the end of January when the average ambient temperature barely breaks 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The kicker about all of them (or in this case, the tearjerker) was a homeless man who was sitting across the street from a church. A CHURCH!! People nowadays have done such a good job at introducing religion into their relationship with Christ that the church is not doing the job it was put here to do.

Next time you are up for an adventure, try this--deck out in your ratty t-shirt and blue jeans. Now, I'm not saying go roll around in the dirt and tear up your shoes (though that could be interesting), but go to a church you've never been to before in a ratty t-shirt and blue jeans. Watch how the people there treat you. My freshman year at college, I was trying desperately to find a place where I felt comfortable worshiping. I'm extremely sensitive to the spiritual atmosphere of locations, and I was searching for someplace where I saw the fire of Christ in the pastor's eyes and those of his flock. What I found when respectfully attending services in my favorite pair of jeans shocked me. Let's take a step back. Consider for a moment the kinds of clothes Jesus must have worn. He was not physically alive during a time when designer jeans were the vogue, or when one just had to have the newest pair of high-top sneakers. He was not corporeally existing when fashion television shows and magazines made more money in a day than most honest churches do in a decade. He most likely wore robes, and dusty, sweaty ones at that (yeah I know, you don't want to think about the Messiah sweating: he was fully human while being fully divine--I'm sure he knew what it was like to smell of a good day's work). He did not get a shower every day, or every month for that matter. He, just like everyone else living in that time and place, was probably covered in that wonderful layer of grime that five-year-old boys seem perpetually coated in. Keeping all that in mind: people at four out of the five churches I tested looked down long, judgmental noses at a poor college student coming to their service in jeans. Clean jeans at that. How do you think they would have reacted if Jesus appeared in their midst wearing the same clothes he did before he was cruicified for them? Hmmmmmmmmmmm.......

A guy I know used to be an associate pastor at a church somewhere in the Lower 48 (forgive my terminology, I'm from Alaska and anywhere in the US but Alaska and Hawaii is automatically the L48). He told my husband and I about how he decided to teach his congregation a lesson. SO--he matted and rubbed dirt in his hair, wore grimy clothes, and popped the hood of his truck on the side of the road everyone would have to use to get to church (small town). No one stopped to see if he was alright or if they could help. Then he went to the church, walked up to the front of the congregation wearing everything he had wore on the side of the street, and taught the people a little lesson about helping thy neighbor. Funny, huh. Not quite.

So a homeless man was sitting, probably nearly out of his mind from the severe cold, across the street from a church that should have been helping him. How many Christians do you see selling all of their possessions and actually caring for the poor, widowed, and orphaned the way Jesus calls us to? How can one expect them to when the churches are not even doing a good job of this? My heart breaks when going into most churches. When they pass around their gilded collection plates, all I can see are the faces of starving children across the world who could live for a month on the gold plating on those dishes. When I look at stained glass windows, yes they are beautiful, all I can think of is how worldly corruption has stained true Christianity to the point where some people think being a Christian is about going to a fancy building in fancy clothes, singing a few songs, and going home to live their mundane, routine little lives. A fancy building.

I watched part of the 2008 Christmas procession at the Vatican and was in tears later when describing certain parts of it to a friend. I watched an elderly man who I don't trust in the first place (a: The Bible says to trust no flesh, b: I don't like what I see in the current Pope's eyes) carrying a very expensive golden orb thing down the aisle of a gigantic building while wearing an intricately woven outfit and a gem-studded crown. A crown. Who is he that he gets to wear a crown? Jesus says we get our crowns after we go home (aka, die and go to Heaven), and then we get to lay them at his feet. You know the crown the Pope was wearing wasn't cheap, and that the many gems encrusting its sides were not CZs. I almost burst out crying right there because again, all I could see were the faces of starving children all over the world who could eat good, healthy food for a month from the money that ONE of the gems in that crown would bring. I guess the Pope didn't read the article I had read about children in a famine stricken part of Africa who live off of grain they can pick out of the road that fell from merchants trucks. They are eating dusty corn/rice/beans that they can pick off the ground while one old guy wears millions of dollars on his head. Where is the JUSTICE?!? Or the SENSE?!?!

My parents are two people who drive me crazy, but I look up to them in ways they will never know. My brother and I grew up in poverty in the backwoods of Alaska. For three years, my family ate anything non-human that moved around our cabin--bears, moose, porcupines, salmon, birds, etc--because we simply had no money (I don't suggest eating porcupine if you don't have to, it is really greasy and gross). The jobs my parents had been promised if we moved never came to fruition and we were stuck with no money to go back to the Lower 48. God brought us to it, God would keep us alive. Eventually, we got on welfare and lived on less than $17,000 a year, including PFD money (Permanent Fund Dividend: look it up, I don't feel like explaining it here). My parents were experts at squeezing a dime out of a nickel to make ends meet--so good at it, in fact, that I didn't know we were poor until some of my "friends" in town pointed it out. The point I'm trying to get to is this: when I left home for college, there were four portraits hanging on my parents walls. They were not wedding pictures. They were not pictures of my brother and I at kindergarten or high school graduation. They were not pictures of my sister's wedding or her children. They were pictures of the four children my parents sponsored through Christian Children's Fund. Three live in the Phillippines and one lives in Honduras. My parents, people to whom $50 is still a LOT of money, spent $100 dollars every month so those kids could eat, go to school, and live a somewhat human existence. My parents, people who did not have it to give, gave with their palms, hearts, and arms wide open.