My tongue is in my hand…

Oh Snap! They made me break out the soapbox.

Posted on: January 21, 2010

I’d like to start this by stating that I don’t think I’ve ever actually used the phrase “Oh Snap”, but it popped into my head when I was thinking of a title, so, there it is.

This week, after participating in a forum held at a church regarding the “resignation” of a popular preschool director, I gathered the final fuel for the fire that burns the words onto these pages (okay, they’re screens). See, this fire has been smoldering for several years, but at first, there was too much anger. And then too much apathy. And now, I’m somewhere between the two.

Money, religion, and politics are always hot button issues each in their own right, and this is about the twisted presentation of the three as one. A trinity of sorts. The fact that the starting point of this essay (for lack of anything better to call it) focuses on the happenings of a preschool  may not grab you at first, but I promise, it all connects to a bigger picture, so give me a chance to draw it all together as best as I can.

See, the previously mentioned forum was to address concerns parents had regarding a forced resignation of a preschool director who ran a church preschool as a ministry. How do I know it was forced? Because I bore witness to 4 months of passive aggressive harassment and mistreatment. On top of that, I know this church has a dismal track record of doing this same thing over and over. In 10 years, they have managed to go through something like 11 pastors, countless interim pastors, multiple music directors and secretaries, and now a preschool director.

At some point, a church should start asking themselves what they’re doing wrong. You can’t play victim forever. And all of this doesn’t even include members who have left or been forced out. The fact that people officially “resign” does not, in fact, make this any more acceptable of a situation. It just means they took the highest road they could when pushed too far and treated too poorly. It doesn’t take a genius to see that something is wrong here. Passionate, dedicated professionals who just “resign” and don’t even have the opportunity to tell those they’ve ministered to good-bye because following the acceptance of their “resignation” they were told to remove themselves and their belongings that day? That fails to make sense to me. Unless, the resignation were forced and those responsible were waiting for the day to come. Unless, they are trying to sweep whatever ugliness that precipitated the “resignation” under the rug as quickly as possible. Unless, they want to spin a story to sell to the congregation…

It’s disheartening that people do this kind of thing to one another in the corporate world, in the secular world. But in a self-proclaimed Christian atmosphere? It’s disgusting and unacceptable. And this was, I strongly believe, about money and politics, at least at it’s inception. I do believe that it then continued to be motivated by several other selfish, greedy things. Which just takes it up another level or two on the unacceptability scale. Here’s the thing, instead of keeping records and making profits, this preschool was letting parents slide on tuition when they lost their jobs and giving money to those who needed it.  They paid their teachers and bought supplies and hosted programs and whatever was left was used to help someone. Because they ran it like a ministry. And it ran well. It was well appreciated.

While the church itself fell apart over and over, the preschool carried on strong and steady, under strong and steady leadership, dedicated to ministry. All of the sudden, 10 years into this, the church decided to jump in and try to begin to run it like a business, while concurrently undermining the current leadership (was the church leadership jealous or intimidated by the preschool success?)  in any way possible without being completely overt (but it wasn’t that hard to see, if you’ve seen this kind of thing before). Well, I don’ t know how familiar they are with this verse in Matthew 21:12 “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves”, but it sounds to me like Jesus was pretty mad about the church being utilized for financial gain. So, you give that a shot and we’ll see how well that works out for you in the long run, particularly since you’ve been so extremely successful in the past.

Now, I know a church is an institution ran by imperfect people. I get that. I know even a church has bills to pay and has to organize itself (it is organized religion). But a church is also intended to serve a higher purpose. A church should be held to a higher standard and the members of a church should hold themselves and one another to a higher standard of acting and living in faith and love. This means your faith should always outweigh your funds. This means your  love should always outweigh your differences. This means you hold one another accountable.

This means you basically don’t do sneaky, hateful, hurtful, greedy, selfish things over and over to one another without ever accepting responsibility, without ever being called out and incited to accept some responsibility for words and actions, without ever being urged to change, to become better.  I think sometimes people think if they just sit by and watch it happen, they aren’t  actually part of it, they aren’t culpable. But you are. If you know something is happening that is wrong and you do nothing, you are complicit. You are allowing it. You are agreeing with it. You are part of it. Your silence, your averted gaze, your acceptance of the unacceptable is pathetic, weak-minded, and weak-faithed. Didn’t anybody tell you that you have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything? (the country singer Aaron Tippin told me when I was about eight).You’re being foolish if you think it doesn’t matter what you don’ t do. It matters just as much, if not more, than what you do.

This lack of faith-action is the thing that convicted me to leave the church. To extract myself from my employment, my teaching position, my board of education membership, ministry training team participation, choir membership, and, in a way, my family legacy within the church. I just had to walk away. Because no one wanted to hold elders, board members, deacons,  and deaconesses (do you think they were good tithers?) accountable for words and actions that were hurtful. No one wanted to hold each other accountable for anything. No one wanted to step out of their comfort zone and do anything, question anything, grow in faith. They just wanted to keep on keeping on, sweeping things under rugs and calling that “letting it go”. No one wanted to even consider rocking the boat, just a little, in the name of maybe, possibly, become better people, more honest, more intent on true service and the true purpose of the church. People were too comfortable (or wrapped up) to question it all.

That’s all I wanted, some kind of action. I was told “people aren’t perfect”. I didn’t need, desire, or expect them to be. I just wanted us to practice what we preach. I wanted to see movement. I didn’t need to be chided like a child and told to let it go. No, no, no. I would not let it go without some acknowledgment. While I loved and still love those people, I was not okay with the way the church was operating within. On politics. That was not okay and I would not be complicit. Does that mean I am unforgiving? No. I harbored no hate or ill will. I just wanted people to step up. But for some insane reason, people in churches are scared to stand up to each other, even in love, even in sincere, honest love of one another. People in churches are scared. Or lazy. Operating so much on pretense that purpose is lost. It’s the stupidest thing. It’s because of money and politics.

People with money in church (the “good tithers”),  people who are part of the politics, are wrapped up, under control of the little power they exercise among one another, never truly free, but believing they have a position that allows them some sort of inherent “rights”. Then you have those that aren’t involved in either, who are lazy, complacent, or wearing blinders- allowing those with the “power” to just do what they do while you just show up for the ride and take it all at face value. Either way, it does nothing for the church. And it makes me want to overthrow some tables.

That situation has settled itself  for me through the years, and I am again darkening the doors of churches, but not without a good bit of cynicism and criticism for the way churches (and the people in them) operate. And I think that’s healthy and perfectly acceptable. I do not need church to have God. But I do feel that church can be a good avenue, a good tool, a good community in relation to God. Churches have the possibility to do and be so much. That’s why it bothers me when people abuse and misuse the church from within, while pretending to have the best interest of the church at heart. They are undermining all the church could be.  It could be so much more than what it is, but quite honestly, it’s been so defeated by and in itself that it’s hard to even take it seriously or see it’s potential anymore.

At the forum, we were supposed to ask questions. One of mine was: What are you doing, as a church, to prevent this from happening again? Have you identified a problem, a connection to all the upheaval that occurs here? What are you going to do different? The pastor never answered my question. He didn’t answer anyone’s questions. He repeated himself over and over, and tried to sidetrack us. I found him to be an insipid, shallow, condescending, jerk who only knew enough to know he had nothing of substance to present, so he just filled up time with an empty run-around of words. If anyone takes him seriously as a leader, then they fall into the same category I just placed him in. If that sounds ugly, I’m not sorry. Sometimes the truth hurts.

Just like with anything else, people need to utilize some critical thinking when engaging in church. You can not just let yourself be fed things by “leaders” of anything, even (and especially) a church or any religious institution. Whatever you are told, you have to evaluate within yourself and run it through your own conversation and journey of faith.  Otherwise, what does it really mean? What are you really going to do with it? Why does it matter? If you can’t even take the time and energy to process it and own it within you, then how are you going to be able to do anything worthwhile with it? And most importantly, how are you going to be sure you’re not being lead astray??

Just because someone managed to become a minister, or a church leader of any kind, does not mean they are automatically a valid and positive leader. A pastor is not above their congregation (or anyone else). They are not holier or more righteous or any closer to God  than anyone else. They are someone who feels called to serve in a particular way, in a particular setting. They are not in charge of you or the church. And quite honestly, in a church, it’s really a family, a team, a community, so “leadership” should be spread out and checks and balances should always be in place. Because there will always be politics in church, just like there will be money. So there should at least be an effort made to utilize the organization, the institution that is a church more effectively towards it’s higher purpose. Otherwise, what are you doing? And why?

The thing about money, religion, and politics is that as powerful as they are, love trumps them all. In love, there is faith, there is joy, there is hope, there is mercy, there is grace, there is encouragement, there is purpose, there is drive, there is passion, there is determination, there is promise, there is commitment, there is patience, there is generosity, there is freedom, there is acceptance, there is humility.

If  a church is not something that can really radiate and spread the love and faith associated with God, if it’s not a place where it is made known the reality and possibility of a body of believers who put faith and love above money, religion and politics, then maybe someone should change the name of it  and stop messing up and watering down the concept of “church”.

Shouldn’t a church be a place where people, though imperfect, try to be better all the time? A place where people encourage this in each other, even if that means apologizing or calling someone out sometimes? Shouldn’t it be a place where people aren’t scared of thinking for themselves or taking a stand?  And above all, shouldn’t it be a place where people try to put love first? Didn’t Christ do these things? Aren’t Christians modeling their life after Christ? He was poor, he was homeless, he was never in line with the politics of the day, he was always doing and saying things officials and religious leaders didn’t like.

Through Christ, don’t Christians believe they have a direct line to God? If so, everyone’s on the same page here, everyone has equal access to God regardless of power or position, regardless of class or status, regardless of sin. Wasn’t Christ  pushing people out of their comfort zones? Wasn’t he dining with prostitutes and touching lepers? Wasn’t he turning over the moneychanger’s tables? Wasn’t he was consistently out of any place any one would consider a comfort zone? Considering the politics and religions of his time and place, wasn’t he part of an anti-political, anti-religious  movement? Wasn’t  he was teaching people the one true comfort zone is in God, in God’s love, in love, in the belief of love, the faith of love. Not money, not religion, not politics or the supposed power or these things- God. Love. The power of God’s love in us, around us, through us.

Love first. Love. First. All else would follow. All the programs and budgets and committees and initiatives and sermons and ministries would follow. God is love. God loves all of us. Those who love God, love others. Love first.

How novel.

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