A few weeks ago, I read a book called Chasing Francis. It is one of the 3,467 books my dad has recommended to me this year. I knew it was a story that wove in the ideas and teachings of St. Francis, and while I do find him to be an interesting saint, I didn't put it high on my very long list.
My dad kept telling me I'd like it, I kept nodding and agreeing that I would indeed get around to it. He then told me that it was about a pastor of a mega church who suddenly finds that he has no idea what the ruddy hell is going on. (My paraphrase, I'm sure my dad would like me to note.) This pastor, named Chase, goes on a forced sabbatical and tries to find meaning in the life he has carved out for himself thus far.
Honestly, any book that wants to poke fun at 'Churchbucks McJesus Godhut' is up my ally right now. I may or may not be working on my own. Anyways, I read it.
It is a thought-provoking, informative, easy and yet intelligent read. If you have any interest, or even disgust, with spiritual life on the assembly line, you should buy a copy.
The book presents many topics of discussion, and my dad has been working his way through them on his blog. You can catch up at Pastor Dan Scott's Blog . I give you permission to click that link, and then minimize the window and finish up here.
Back again? Excellent. Let's carry on.
A woman named Maggie attends Chase's church. A former drug addict, ex-con kind of gal, she has a fun time acclimating to the church environment. Chase recalls how difficult it was for Maggie, and how hard she worked to be part of the community. In one of my favorite parts, Maggie drops the 'F' bomb in front of a church elder and has no idea that it is controversial. But the church took her and her daughter in, and thus was rocked when the young girl tragically died. It was traumatic for the community, but especially for Maggie and for Chase. Maggie needed answers that Chase quite simply couldn't give.
This starts the domino effect that sends Chase off to Italy to figure himself out with the help of mozzarella, Francis of Assisi, and lots of red wine.
The relationship between Chase and Maggie continues, with each confiding ideas and fears in the other. You see where this is going, right? By the end of the book, they are 'together', though still not quite sure what that means. It is a nice twist, and not a cop out, as these things sometimes are. It may seem that the author was just trying to make us feel better for Chase, and have us confident that his life will return to 'normal' soon enough. Instead, I think it is a final lesson.
I knew early on that the two would end up together, and I also knew that this was the most fictional part of the book. There is no way in Evangelicaland that this kind of woman would be allowed to date this kind of man.
Can't you see the headlines? "Local Pastor of 18k Dates Former Prostitute" - His congregants gather for prayer and intercession, page 2.
In the church world, this relationship would never, EVER, be allowed. It took me a few weeks to fully understand why, and tonight it suddenly hit me.
The church has a class system.
I touched on it a few months ago when I compared church to a royal court. Those in favor, those not in favor, the politics, the subtlety, the fools. But this goes a bit deeper.
You've heard the phrase, "once saved, always saved". I'd like to borrow and tweak that a bit. "Once a liar, always a liar." "Once an unwed mother, always an unwed mother." "Once a crack addict, always a crack addict." "Once too poor to pay the rent, always too poor to pay the rent or be on the church board or maybe even teach a class."
In short, once you step through the doors of most churches, you are greeted with this:
"Welcome to church! Jesus forgives you, but we never will."
How many times have you heard someone talk about how so-and-so ran off with so-and-so but now God got ahold of them and they are 'on fire'? How many times did the so-and-sos get asked to join a marriage class? Did they ever get to *gasp* help teach it?
Do we even need to talk about the joke that is 'secondary virginity'? Jesus forgives you, but when Bubba Joe wants to get married you can present him with this secondary virginity. Because being forgiven by the God of the cosmos isn't good enough. Nope, I need a back-up forgiveness card to show fellow church members. What's the secondary version of killing someone or stealing money?
Church is just so weird.
Maggie would have been welcomed, of course. She would have been told not to drop any more 'F' bombs. She would have been given a hanky to cover her too-short skirt. But she also would have heard many times that her past didn't matter, that she was a new person and the old didn't have to dictate the new. But never, ever would anyone have thought to tell her she couldn't date The Most Pure Pastor. No, Maggie would have, should have known. After all, Maggie was in a different class.
Some former pimp, perhaps. Maybe some guy who struggles with gender confusion or used to be a pervert. Same level, same class. This would be acceptable. Oh, the testimony they would have. They could adopt crack babies and go on T.B.N.
But the pastor? The leader of the flock? With a broken, loud, unruly sheep? That's actually a sin. I know it is in the book of something or other....something about yokes and oxen and your body is a temple or....something. What? Those verses have nothing to do with that stuff? Well....'F' bomb.
If you cannot abide the thought of your child mingling with kids from one parent homes, you are perpetuating the church class abomination.
If you cannot accept an adulterer as your friend, you are buying in to a hideous lie. If you still call them an adulterer, you are just plain embarrassing to humanity.
Real forgiveness, and thus real acceptance comes from ONE SOURCE. That source is not, has never been, will never be you. Those that cannot accept others live in the torment of not understanding their own forgiveness.
We see this outside the church, but oh how magnified it is inside our newly refurbished, highly expensive, state of the art walls.
Politicians who are the angriest at immigration issues are found to have come here illegally.
Senators rail against family division while they entertain seven mistresses across the country.
Anti-homosexual legislation written by those who...whoops....are secretly homosexual.
We love to yell and point and frown and judge. It takes away, for one small second, the guilt and hate and shame we carry towards ourselves. How convenient, and how easy to look with disdain on someone who is wearing last year's Easter dress, instead of address the issue with myself that I'm feeling ugly. Push someone down, and I automatically go up. The pecking order must be observed.
When I was a freshman at Belmont University, I took an Old Testament class. It was all repeat stuff, types of covenants, who begat Ishmanidibidad, and the awkward skipping through Song of Solomon. On the last day, however, my professor read from the book of Hosea. This was not repeat. It was absolutely new to me, in idea and presentation. My prof, whose name I have forgotten, wept openly as she read the story about the prophet who married a hooker. Gomer was her (unfortunate) name and she couldn't deal with the acceptance Hosea gave. It was, my prof said, a real love story. He just loved her, and from hunting her down in danger and carrying her off to safety, he just loved her. There was no 'you used to' or 'if it weren't for me'.
People say that this story is an illustration of God's love for his people. But all good stories illustrate truth, and don't have to be about God to teach about God.
I like to think that in the midst of tribes and higher ups and lesser downs and untouchables that pepper the pages of the Old Testament, God was beginning to make a point. The point is driven home many years later when Paul wrote that 'there is now no longer Greek nor Jew, male nor female, slave nor free.' When you walk in the light of forgiveness, you have only one class. There are no other options. You are God's.
Does it matter if you are male or female, physically speaking? Of course. Will your doctor need to know that you have an STD? Yes. God's forgiveness and class eradication doesn't erase all the lovely lines he drew for you, or some of the ugly ones you drew for yourself. If you murdered 87 people, we aren't going to let you host a church hunting expedition. You can be offended, but if you are a mature believer who has true class, you probably won't be for long.
Jesus pissed off tons of people because he evened the playing field. Access to God wasn't solely based on education or money or pedigree. It was based on heart, on faith, on trust. This means that some will be educated, some will be poor, some will be well-connected. But these aren't the things that link you to God. They are just part of the journey, for good or ill.
In all major revolutions, the 'lower' classes get to the breaking point and demand change at the point of a knife. Should they, shouldn't they? That's a separate topic. But they arrive at such an impasse because they have been so oppressed. Shoveling coal, licking boots, starving, having no say, all while the fat ladies powder their hair and sew pearls onto fans. Work and situation can be drastically different and yet hold no difference. Coal miners can be as happy and fulfilled as the fat ladies. But when the fat powdered lady sneers at the coal on your face, the injustice becomes unbearable. Hardship can be survived. Disdain, however, rarely can.
The atrocities hoisted upon various ethnic groups in America's past are sobering at best. When I tried to explain why Martin Luther King, Jr. was so important, my kids were confused. They kept asking why black kids wouldn't be allowed in a soda shop. Why would someone's skin color matter? They were baffled. I'm baffled, and I've seen much more prejudice than they have. It is embarrassing to hear a much older person use words that are now considered highly offensive. It no longer matters if it was normal in their day. Old dogs have to learn new tricks unless they want to go for a long ride in the country.
What will my great grandkids be baffled about? Will they look at the era in which I've lived and wonder how we were so stupid, so close-minded and mean? What new tricks will I have to learn in order to better understand and engage with the world around me? What words or ideas will I have to trade in to better love my fellow human beings?
I am disgusted by the class system that is present in the church. I am terrified of what it means. I am embarrassed to be associated with such a group. Like it or not, when a crazy Christian says something ignorant about God's wrath and a tornado, this reflects on you. We get lumped together because we have something in common. How many times have you seen a television report about a Muslim-connected bombing and thought, "oh, I bet they aren't all like that"? I don't want to be connected to people who are mean at best and evil at worst. I don't care what you call yourself. If you lie and cheat and steal and oppress and ridicule, you are not operating in almost any religion, let alone Christianity. What to do? If you can't join them, beat them!
The only thing that will win the class war is, ironically, class.
Rise above, don't give in, don't get caught up in the petty stupidity that most Christians are content with. The world is too beautiful for you to sit inside and count your silver cutlery. God made mountains and rivers and human hearts and the best way to say thank you is to enjoy them. Try your hardest to love someone the way God does. Prostitute? No biggie, you can lead the purity class. Don't have new clothes? Who cares! You can still be on the exalted platform. You used to wear white hoods and burn crosses? You are welcome here, you are loved here, you can heal here.
Is it hard? Abso 'F'bomb lutely. But it is the right thing to do. How dare we take the love and forgiveness of Christ and turn it into a club of merit and hierarchy?
It can be easy to get caught in the middle. After all, we could have some reservations about a kleptomaniac being the church treasurer, even if we are operating outside of the church class system. But if you are honest, if you are loving, if you know God, you will come to know your real motives. A shepherd keeps the sheep safe out of love. He does so with care for their well being and growth. He does not, however, choose sheep to be on his 'sheep' list and keep them at arms length because they aren't as pretty as the others.
If you find yourself weighing past snares against current roles, you have to deal in honesty to determine which side you fall on. Are you acting in love or operating in class assery? It can be difficult.
If you lose your way, drop the 'F' bomb the next time you find yourself in a room full of fat powdered ladies.
There's nothing like a good bomb to clear the air and begin again.