Comfortable Christianity

There is a story in the book “Spirituality of Imperfection” that is about a scruffy old man from the fringes of society that appears in the congregation of a wealthy suburban church. He begins to attend this church and comes every week like clockwork. His presence makes the other parishioners uncomfortable because he is definitely not like them. Finally after services one Sunday the cleric in charge of this congregation approaches the old man and asks him why he keeps coming to this particular church. The minister is uncomfortable too with the presence of this fellow whose appearance is somewhat unkempt and unclean. The old man tells the minister that he likes this congregation and would like to become a member of it. This really startles and frightens the minister and he begins to discourage the old man, but the old fellow insists that he’d like to stay. Finally the minister suggests that the old man pray about this and return the following week when they can discuss his possible membership in the congregation.

A week elapses and the old man once again comes to church and following the service the pastor anxious to be rid of the old fellow asks if he has prayed. The old man assures the cleric that he has prayed and that God has given him an answer. The minister asks if the old gentleman would share with him the answer he received. The old guy says, “God told me that he had been trying to get into this church for over ten years and he’s had no luck either.”

Last nights’ quote from Lenny Bruce reminded me of this story and that’s what’s wrong with many of the churches that exist today. Welcoming the stranger, the resident alien, the foreigner, the widower, the person outside our comfort zone is not easy and many churches today are agents of the status quo. Instead of being prophetic many of these are cold and pathetic. A fellow Secular Franciscan and I had a long talk along these lines last month on our ride home from the Kateri Shrine. He and his wife had attended a local Catholic Church and the service was over in 23 minutes. There was no warmth, no community and no desire on their part to return to this parish. I’ve been to that parish and their probably canononically correct in every respect. They are obedient to Rome and the local diocese and they are colder than an ice cube. Peace.

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3 Replies to “Comfortable Christianity”

  1. Have you ever wondered what a Muslim must think of us as he walks past a Catholic Church around ten minutes before the end of Mass?

    If he’s anywhere near the parking lot, he would have to jump out of the way of people running out of the church and peeling out of the parking lot (remember; Judas was the first to leave.)

    Then when he sees those who stayed until Mass ended all walk out with furrowed brows and flip open their cell phones to check any incoming calls they may have missed due to their “inconvenience” of having to spend an hour in church.

    What in the world would this Muslim have encountered that could have possibly tweaked his desire to look into this expression of faith?

  2. That icy congregation would have to melt a bit with one person in their midst filled with love and the Holy Spirit.

  3. In college, I knew a woman who had come from an extremely abusive family, but her parents had all the marks of middle-class “respectable” lifestyle: the kids, the house, the cars, the neat lawn, the right clothes, etc. By the time we met, her appearance was classic punk, and she believed that God and Jesus were for people like her parents, not for people like herself.

    So I asked her what she thought Jesus would have to say to a woman whose tribe were considered spiritually “unclean” in his time. Her mouth twisted, and she shot out the word “Repent!” So, I told the story of the woman at the well. I told the story of Zaccheaus climbing that tree to see without being seen, only to be told by Jesus to get down so they could go eat dinner together – at Zaccheaus’s house, on his turf, creating the sacred bond of hospitality.

    I wish today that I had then understood the concepts of “chesed”, lovingkindness, and “tsedaka” – Hebrew for justice, but used in some pretty radical ways – like when you give someone money because they need it, that’s not charity – something “extra”, it’s tsedaka – merely just, because people *deserve* to have their needs met.

    Of the two, the rabbis taught that chesed was the greater “mitzvah”, call, commandment, because chesed can be practiced for everyone, by everyone.

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