The Church Farce: Are You and I In On It? (Free Quiz Inside!)

I’m realizing more and more the true condition of humans —  you and me.

Brokenness.

We spend our whole lives making sure no one sees the cracked pieces we’re trying to hold together.

Take 10 of us Malayalees, and we’re no different from any other culture in our brokenness. Somewhere among that 10, there’s at least one: abusive spouse, molested child, porn addict, paranoid schizophrenic and someone who can’t keep food on the table for their children. And plenty who feel irreparably guilty either for something they’ve done or something done to them.

It’s human nature to feel like everyone else is normal and try to act like you’re normal, too.

In Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, the characters spend much time pretending to be someone else or being mistaken for someone else.

Believers are hungry for the realness of God. I think He’s real when He takes messed up people and heals their brokenness. When I’m with believers, I want to acknowledge that we are all so flawed. I want to talk to that person who [insert sin here] and say, I feel ya, man. If I were to look at this person in shock and judgment, I would be judging myself. And contributing to the farce that our churches are made of perfect people.

THE FARCE (Are you and I in on it?)

Have you ever gone to a wedding where a speaker talks about the wonderful reputation of the bride and groom? She’s in the choir, he’s a Sunday School teacher, and so on.

Apparently the activities you do in church make you a good person. Sometimes I don’t like the idea of being on stage because I don’t like the idea that I’m projecting some image that I’m any more righteous than the person sitting in church that everyone is afraid to talk to because they committed some unforgivable sin.

Our churches buy into the lie that once you commit the wrong offense and it goes public, your place is sitting stone cold in a pew (if not outside the church). God forbid that there is still a divine purpose for your life. God forbid that you could get back on track, become a servant leader and be a symbol of God’s restoration and amazingness.

Christ died on the cross and shed his blood because you and I need his grace and forgiveness. The minute you think you’re any better than an “outed” sinner, you’re fooling yourself.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?[a] 4 Have you experienced[b] so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? – Galatians 3

Could we do this —

Could we create an atmosphere where the woman who had an abortion — the pastor’s wife, the single college student — where they could find the help they need? Where church/God is their answer?

What is the purpose of church?  Is it a private country club to let you socialize and keep your children safe? Or does it have a responsibility to feed the hungry and teach the homeless, to welcome the sinner and prove the worth of the cross?

THE FREE QUIZ

When a broken person knocks on your church door — disheveled/homeless/hungry/abused, whatever, how do you respond?

A) Sorry we’re having a service in our native language right now.

B) There’s a [insert ethnicity here] church up the road. Good luck.

C) Call 211. You don’t have a phone? Good luck. 

D) I think there’s a food pantry 15 minutes from here. Don’t know the name. You don’t have a car or Google Maps? Good luck.

The past few months I’ve witnessed churches who have taken the gospel to heart and are taking responsibility for people who need help. They refuse to limit salvation to people of their color or perceived status.

I will be sharing some examples in posts to come. I’m not an expert on the purpose of the church or serving the broken, but I welcome discussion so we can all make good decisions when opportunities arise to serve Jesus in disguise.

  42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ – Matthew 25

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paullonghurst/3539716916/

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What if Tom’s Shoes Went to Kerala 50 Years Ago?

A friend is flying from Houston to Miami to Peru and hopping on a boat through the Amazon to get to a small village where people cook over fire. The locals have to find wood, start the fire, then slowly cook their food at the mercy of the fire’s cooking capacity.

My friend, while sharing the gospel, is helping build a small cooking device, so this village can cook more efficiently and improve the quality of life. Then he’ll teach the locals to build and sell these devices, so they can make money while helping others.

Pretty nifty, huh?

Barefoot in Kerala in 2010

Barefoot in Kerala even in 2010

Anyway, I thought about how my grandmothers cooked over a fire in their tiny homes. Sometimes I ask my mom if she and her peers in Kerala 50 years ago would count as poverty-stricken. I mean, they ran around with no shoes! And took dumps in holes in the ground. Tom’s Shoes could have swept Kerala in its arms in my parents’ day and covered their little feet. They barely had any clothes and shared a tiny living space with many brothers and sisters and few beds.

But I imagine they counted as pretty well off compared to the truly poor in India.

So maybe just because someone doesn’t have electricity or a stove or shoes, we don’t have to think their world is a mess? Or feel sorry for them in that oh-you-poor-third-world-citizen-you kinda way. At the same time, helping anyone economically develop is a good thing.

More to Life Than Milking Cows

walking the cows in paipad, kerala

Just the neighbor taking the cattle for a stroll in Paipad

In a Father’s Day story today, the Houston Chronicle gives advice from a man from Mexico who, 9 grown-up kids, a Latina girl band and a landscaping biz later, has lived the American dream. You might appreciate the similarities between his story and that of your parents or others in your family.

Excerpts:

When David Rodriguez was 16, he kissed his Mexican grandmother goodbye and headed north, sure that there was more to life than milking cows, tending crops and chasing the very occasional car down dusty roads…

“Where I was born, there was no electricity, no TV, no refrigeration. When we were going to eat meat, it was a party. We couldn’t save any of it.”

This was the reality for so many people in our parents’ day, and it still is for many around the world. Though my parents weren’t vegetarians growing up, meat was eaten only on special occasions. I’m always asking my mom when she first heard that a TV existed.

No matter what corner of the globe you’re from, there are so many parallels in the way people live.

The Church With No Sinners

These days I think churches are fighting the perfection complex. The idea that we only want “people like us” who live perfect lives on the outside.

Years ago I heard someone debate whether a divorced person should be welcomed in their church. “What if they set a bad example for our kids?”

I wanted to throw up. I think today traditional churchgoers  are moving toward stopping the pretending. They know their own lives are dysfunctional live everyone else’s. We all need help.

I work at a charity where neighbors come in every day to get food and clothing for their families. One woman told me how she got tired of nothing in her life working out. Her mom was sick and her sister had MS. When her son got cancer, it was the last straw, and she almost lost it.

One day as she argued with her husband she just left the house. She didn’t know where she was going. She just wanted to go to church. She drove around searching, still in her house clothes, with a voice inside telling her no one would accept her looking the way she did. She was used to not being accepted.

She arrived at the church. As she turned the doorknob into the sanctuary, the voice taunted her again. But she spoke out against it and was so hungry for something more. God started speaking to her. She started to see her circumstances in a new way and somehow discerned that she didn’t have to worry anymore; God was in control of everything.

The people in that church warmly welcomed her when she most needed it.

I hope all our churches can respond with warmth and welcome for that desperate person in need.

Because we’ve all been there or will be.

Are You Indian or American?

At San Antonio’s Institute of Texan Cultures

The older I get, the more it seems people identify me as an American.

We all grew up calling ourselves Indian. This does not mean we all grew up hating America. (Some people hate the thought of hyphenated identities like German-American or Chinese-American, and think we should all just be American.)

But we called ourselves Indian because we grew up in Indian households eating Indian foods and learning Indian values from our Indian parents. Years later, it’s easy to look back and see how this generation became it’s own category of people who are American in so many ways but love the Indianness instilled by their parents.

We get to be both. Continue reading

The Electric Pink Sari Vigilantes: Down With Abusive Husbands, Etc.

“Clad in electric pink saris, the all-female gang shames abusive husbands and corrupt politicians. Amana Fontanella-Khan talks to the woman behind the largest women’s vigilante group in the world.”

I love the concept of shaming abusive husbands (or abusive wives or in-laws for that matter). The quote above is from an article about India’s Pink Gang, the largest women’s vigilante group in the world.

When the police are paid by oppressors not to help victims and when the community looks the other way at injustice, these women ante up their own resources to find solutions. They collect food or money, organize protests and demand police action. Continue reading

“What Would People Say?” And Other Perceived Barriers

Can’t do this. Can’t do that.

What would people say?

Sometimes you’re at the mercy of a community that holds your reputation hostage. IF YOU LET IT.

My friends have two of the cutest dogs you ever saw. Every time I knock on their door, the dogs bark like crazy, excited to lick and paw at whoever comes their way. But they’re stuck behind a little indoor security gate that leans against the wall at the bottom of the stairs.

If these pups simply tipped over the fence with a nudge of their nose or even jumped over it, they would be free.

But fear and obedience keep them behind that weak little gate. That’s their routine, their sense of security. Continue reading