Ruminations from the back pew: sleeper cell edition

Technically this week’s edition of ‘Ruminations from the back pew’ should be titled ‘Ruminations from the middle section of the church because I arrived late and someone had taken my usual spot’. This, of course, is the dark side of the new-congregants-seat-shuffle I spoke of so lovingly before: it’s survival of the earliest out here.

As the Body of Christ, we always try to be accepting of the new folks we are so often blessed with, but you’ve got to admit that there are just some kinds of people you will never understand or sympathise with. For my last church it was black people. For my mother it’s vegetarians. For me it’s people who willingly sit in the front of church. And on their first visit? You better believe I’m listening for the telling jangle of their testes of steel.

Balls of steel.

Balls of steel.

Anyway, the service was pretty typical:

  • My new spot gave me an unimpeded view of the only two biceps in the 9:30 congregation, one of which had a tattoo on it. I’m not sure which was more distracting: the muscle or the unfortunate choice of font.
  • I spent most of the opening prayer praying that my stomach wouldn’t rumble too loudly—a prayer that went unanswered. Thanks, God!
  • My dotty-looking neighbour nodded off halfway through the sermon. I would have left her to it if she hadn’t started to snore, so I did the Christian thing and coughed loudly and pretended not to see her startle awake. I’m pretty sure I’m a good person.

Optimus Fine

The sermon was enlightening, don’t let Dotty Lady’s slumber fool you. Another oldie but goodie about how we are saved by grace and not our works. It’s such a simple thing, faith, in the end. Maybe that’s why we always forget about it.

Soundbites:

  • God can only create order when he’s the one in control. We have to relinquish control of our lives and actions to him.
  • Our works cannot replace God or God’s grace, and we cannot ‘repay’ him for salvation with works. If works could get us into Heaven, it would hardly be Heaven.
  • When we struggle with having faith, we need to remember that living itself is a constant act of faith. Jesus said only a mustard seed amount was required. That’s not a whole lot compared to the faith it takes the get up each morning.
  • Grace is a mystery, but what we should do with it isn’t.
  • God sees the glory of Jesus Christ when he looks at us. We too see that glory when we look at ourselves and each other through the goggles of faith.
  • In being saved, we (Christians) are the hope to the lost.
  • If we do everything for God’s glory, our priorities will automatically sort themselves out. (Something we’ve been discussing in our home cell group.)
  • God has faith in us—the least we can do is to return the favour.

What did you learn this Sunday?

Ruminations from the back pew

I attend a local Methodist church. It has three services every Sunday: 7:30, 9:30 and 18:00. I usually go to either of the last two because if I went to the first one I might run into morning people (shudder).

On my way into church I got caught behind a family gaggle*. I don’t know what it is about me that sends small children tugging nervously at their grandmother’s skirt, but that’s what happened. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried smiling at them.

Patrick Bateman smile

Lately we’ve been trying to lure in welcome new congregants. I love it when new people come to our church because it upsets the established seating order and then it’s anyone’s game. I had a whole pew to myself near the heater, until someone slid in late smelling strongly of shoe polish. Unfortunately this pew is right in front of the mother’s room (which ironically contained only a father), which has not been properly soundproofed. So when a toddler tipped something over, my first thought was that the pew was going**. If you love me, I told God, you won’t let the pew break. I call this The Fat Sinner’s Prayer.

The leader of our evangelism team reported back on their efforts. Apparently the two biggest obstacles at this point are 1) that white people mistake them for Jehovah’s Witnesses and 2) that black people mistake them for white people.

Jehovah Witness level: expert.

Jehovah Witness level: expert.

There have been some changes to the worship team: Luciano Pavarotti has joined. He has a lovely voice, but it booms like the depths of Moria under siege. It took the congregation two songs to recover some of their wits and marshal a watery response to the giant’s thunder. I haven’t had that much fun singing in years because there was absolutely no chance of my reedy wiffle being overheard.

He probably isn't a stranger to The Fat Sinner's Prayer, either.

He probably isn’t a stranger to The Fat Sinner’s Prayer, either.

The sermon was about being saved by God’s grace (an old one, but a good one). How our redemption through Christ is unconditional and eternal. How we are accepted, and ought to accept in turn. How we need a relationship with God, church, fellowship, friends, to sustain the knowledge of our salvation and buffer us against worldliness. And you know what? In that back pew I felt sufficed with grace. A while ago I posted a reblog about how we tend to look for perfect churches (now there’s a misnomer). But really I think it’s just about finding an imperfect place that drowns out your own imperfections with love.

Yes? Yes. :)

– – – – – – – – – –

*Two grandparents, their children and their children’s children. If you ever wonder why the Israelites spent forty years trekking across a relatively small patch of desert, just look to family gaggles. It’s a time-consuming affair, making sure small children or confused geriatrics don’t wander off into traffic, and that’s not even counting the time fathers spend fussing over secure parking or mothers root through purses, bundles of children attached to their legs like so many ducklings. All of this occurring on the stretch of sidewalk between you and holy ground, of course. For a second, just one second, you sympathise deeply with Jehovah.

And it’s at a church so you can hardly lose your temper. The trick is to spot family gaggles ahead of time and slow down your pace so that your incandescent, unmarried-no-children rage remains a steady two steps behind any stragglers.

**They’re these old, creaky wooden things, stand alone and arranged along the flanks of the room.

Honesty | Featured Blog Thursday July 11, 2013

honesty

Today’s FBT theme is, quite accidentally, ‘honesty’. These two blogs are pretty awesome and I’ve found a great deal of encouragement in reading them.

First up we have JS Park, ‘the atheist pastor’, who bills his blog as being for struggling Christians. I want my blog to be like his when it’s all grown up. His willingness to tackle tough questions is refreshing, so if you’re not already following him I suggest you sign up at once.

Secondly we have Registered Runaway, whose heartfelt posts about being a gay Christian are touching and insightful. All sides of the ‘gay argument’ should be made to sit down and read this blogger’s words.  Look out especially for the Love Letter series: it’s grace in action.

What blogs have you been reading?

Have a great Thursday!

Reblog: Experience, the most sacred part of life | h.b. allaman

Experience is the most sacred part of life. Our experience. My experience. Your experience.

We walk with Christ. We follow Jesus. We experience Jesus. He is with us at every step, in every experience. What we experience, it’s the heartbeat of everything in our lives. It makes us who we are. It gives us context and perspective. It shapes how we see things and influences what we believe.

Experience is what Jesus uses to integrate us, to make us whole. Sometimes it feels like fragmentation, or worse, disintegration. But that’s the beauty of redemption. God takes all the pieces, every single experience, every fragmented shard, and he uses each and every one to shape us into our whole and integrated self. That makes every experience sacred, every piece of us holy. Even what we label as depraved, it is sacred to God. Even those experiences we see as horrific and evil, God makes them sacred. He redeems them.

I’m not saying an evil act is good or sacred. I’m saying the experience is sacred. It’s sacred because I experienced it. It’s sacred because a human bore witness to it. It’s sacred because it was experienced by one created in the image of God. That’s what I think Paul is talking about in Romans 8. Nothing can separate us from our Source. We are not alone. We are never alone. No matter what we experience, God is there, and because of his Presence in our experience, what we experience becomes sacred.

An evil act can fragment us. Abuse can disintegrate. But God integrates and heals and makes us whole. And part of that wholeness has to include the dark shadow-filled experiences because the whole is the sum of all parts. If some parts are removed or thrown out or destroyed, there can be no whole. I think that’s where we get it wrong. We try to become whole without all the parts. We believe we must war against ourselves, destroy what we’re told is depraved or sinful or weak or not God’s design. But we cannot get rid of some parts and still reach wholeness. Wholeness requires all parts to be present.

Look at every person in the Bible. Not one is without shadow. Thomas had doubt. Jacob had a limp, and Moses had a lisp. David had adultery and murder. Sarah had to laugh. Rachel and Leah had rivalry. Tamar had rape. Joseph had slavery and prison. Every single person had a flaw or a dark side or a happened-to-me moment. And not one story ends with God taking it away. Jesus even kept his scars.

God doesn’t want perfection. He wants our heart. He makes a person whole, not by eradicating parts but by integrating every part into one. Wholeness is the absence of nothing. Wholeness means nothing is absent. All parts are present, and they must be to make the whole.

Whoa! Read the whole post: Experience, the most sacred part of life | h.b. allaman.

Reblog: Trying To Witness Vs. How You Really Are « J.S. Park

But some days — I just want to flip a table and kick a trashcan and race a cop car and jump out a window and tell everyone that I hate my life right now and I don’t really feel like repping Jesus everyday, and that it probably won’t get better if you tell me that I need to be a “better witness.”

I totally get that we’re called to bear fruits and endure patiently and other Christianese things like that, but it sort of shuts down my need to be honest and vulnerable and real with other people.

So then I just fake it, and that’s no good either, and I end up feeling like a failure whenever I read that bumper sticker, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  I mean like jeez, I guess not if you put it that way.

The whole “trying to be a Christian” thing can get pretty exhausting.

I just thank God for people who can handle my insane neurotic twitchy craziness and never flinch at me. Those understanding types know we’re trying to get it right like everyone else, and we can fail at that, and there should be breathing room, and God gave us the biggest breather of all called grace.

Feel like you’re failing at this “witnessing” thing? Read the whole post: Trying To Witness Vs. How You Really Are « J.S. Park.

Reblog: Proximity and Relationship: A Personal Story – Michael Kimpan – Red Letter Christians

The very doctrine of the incarnation contains at its heart the divine welcoming of the Other; embodying that same welcome is at the heart of our own obedience to God’s grace.

via Proximity and Relationship: A Personal Story – Michael Kimpan – Red Letter Christians.

Grace: one size fits all

Someecards

Do you think it’s sometimes easier to be merciful towards the ‘big’ sinners–murderers, thieves,  rapists, and so on? This morning I was disparaging about a family member whose husband is ill. Her requests for prayers and support are more about her than him, and I wasn’t feeling very sympathetic, much less inclined to pray for her.

Later I read an article about a man who raped a six-month old baby to death. Through the disgust I found myself thinking something along the lines of, well, everyone deserves grace–even him. I was more gracious about this guy’s crime than my aunt’s relatively harmless (and even understandable) narcissism.

Have you ever experienced anything similar? It made me feel like a prat and I wondered if we have the reverse situation going now than in Jesus’ time: where we are more likely to forgive or help strangers, these ‘others’, than we are the people in our own backyards over weekends, on our Facebook timelines, in our living rooms.

Maybe it’s because for most of, these ‘others’ are on the periphery of our lives: they live in news bulletins or in ghettos or in quiet whispers about ‘someone who knows someone who knows’. They don’t buy us birthday presents or spam our e-mail accounts with chain letters. We can afford to be gracious because doing so does not fundamentally alter our lives.

But extending grace at home, at work, in shopping malls, at birthday dinners, to the people we see every day–that’s not always so easy. We tend to grade sins, and unfortunately our magnanimity about those who commit them sometimes grows in relation to how big we think the transgressions are. The ‘smaller’ sins slip through the cracks of daily life, into that shady area of ‘habit’.

But all grace is radical, and everyone, regardless of who they are, what they are, whether those parameters fall within or outside our families, communities or comfort zones, deserves grace. Even slightly histrionic aunts :).

All grace is grace.

Reblog: The Gospel Is Not a Behavior Control Program | RELEVANT Magazine

My suspicion is that, if we’re unflinchingly honest, we are often more concerned about behavior modification than we are about individuals encountering the presence of a loving God.

via The Gospel Is Not a Behavior Control Program | RELEVANT Magazine.

Courageous | Featured Blog Thursday, 28 February 2013

 

Today’s FBT theme is courageous. Courage, for some reason, is usually considered a masculine attribute, so I think it’s fitting that both of today’s featured blogs are written by women.

  • Lauren is a teacher who writes about her struggles with infertility. She finds God in the heartbreak, in the dark spaces between pools of hope. Her writing is honest and endearing, and even during this tough time she exudes grace.
  • Michelle is in her mid-twenties and fighting cancer. She tackles a hairy topic with optimism and a sense of humour. If you didn’t see her on Freshly Pressed, take a few minutes and check out her blog. It will make you look at life differently.