For almost five years, I didn’t go to church. It was only me and Reverend Bedpost most Sundays. I’d get inspired or guilty once in a while and church shop for a few weeks, but soon I’d be back to hitting the snooze button. I was attending seminary at the time, so I convinced myself that I was getting enough religion during the week. I thought my friends were enough of a “faith community” and I didn’t need to practice some banal weekend ritual. But I had another reason for playing hooky on Sundays that I didn’t tell anyone: I couldn’t stomach being around other Christians. Christians are completely full of crap.
I’m serious. We do a bunch of weird, ridiculous, and sometimes stupid things. That’s on a good day. On a bad day, we’re downright mean.
Let’s begin with the weird part. For starters, we have our own language. We use words like “fellowship,” “sanctify,” and “discern” in about a hundred different ways. When we pray, we’re over-fond of the word “just” and doubling up on God’s name (“Lord God, Lord Jesus, Jesus Lord,” etc.). And this is only what garden-variety evangelicals do. Some Christians get downright bizarre, especially when they worship. It’s a wonder that we haven’t scared away all sensible nonbelievers.
Then there’s the ridiculous. First, we have a preoccupation with hokey costumes. Whether it’s big hair on TBN, big hats at the Vatican, or the mandatory cropped facial hair of male youth pastors, Christians feel compelled to don uniforms that distinguish us from the rest of the world. It’s silly and pointless. It’s almost as ridiculous as how we behave while singing praise songs. Ever notice that people don’t stick their hands in the air because of the words? It happens at the chorus or the bridge of a song, when the music switches to big major chords. I bet you could put the words to the “ABC”song to a big crescendo in a worship song and see just as many palms in the air.
The stupid and mean things flow together on a continuum. On the stupid side, Christians get their tails in a knot about the most irrelevant things. Harry Potter? Please. The whole continent of Africa is getting flushed down the toilet, and the Pope and a bunch of high-profile preachers are worried about a bespectacled British kid on a broom. But stupidity just passes the time for idle Christians. If you cross us on a serious issue, we get mean in ways that would make Michael Corleone blush. If someone offends our moral sensibility or tries to change a law that’s close to our hearts, we set an entire cultural machine in motion. We have money, politicians, lobbyists, and corporate giants at our disposal. Christians on the ground picket with angry slogans, while Christians in the high-rises of power write checks for lobbyists and politicians. We have no problem thumping pagan skulls when the culture moves in a direction we don’t like. As a result, much of the world not only hates us; they’re afraid of us.
So why on earth would I want to hang out with these people? I love Jesus with all my heart, but I find His flock annoying. During my self-exile from church, I was picky about the Christians with whom I did “fellowship,” and often preferred the company of non-Christians. Why would I want to go to church with a bunch of people so full of crap?
Because I’m even more full of crap. When God revealed that to me, I started going to church again. God had to go out of His way to remind me of this through some humbling experiences, but the proof was there all along. I just got snobby and didn’t bother to look.
If Christians use weird language, I need look no further than my job to realize that I do the same. I’m a psychologist. That means I use convoluted, condescending, and confusing ways to describe what’s common sense and simple. Worse than that, I’m prone to using profanity when I’m out of earshot of anyone who might get offended (and sometimes when I’m not). I’ll go out on a limb and say that puts me in no position to judge folks who insert “just” into every other word of a prayer.
I’m also guilty of the ridiculous. I always shop at the same two stores, though I could probably get clothes of the same quality cheaper somewhere else. I get obsessed with video games, even though I’m a thirty-nine-year old man with a wife and four kids. I’m also one of these dorks who’ll look for movie spoilers on the Internet months before a film comes out. But I’m perhaps no more ridiculous than when at a rock concert, especially U2. Remember how I slammed other Christians for raising their hands in worship because of a change in the music rather than the words? I do the same thing. I’ll stick my hands in the air like a Pentecostal during a rousing point in a U2 song, though I have no idea what the heck Bono is singing about.
I’ve got stupid and mean down, as well. The stupid part is a sort of reverse-dogmatism. I’m real big on not judging someone, unless I think someone else is judgmental. I’d be willing to extend grace to a violent criminal on death row, while passing harsh judgment on a good person whose beliefs I consider too rigid or dogmatic. But that’s just when I’m being stupid. I can get mean, too. I’m not talking about “having a bad day” orneriness—I mean vicious. If someone is rude to me on the freeway or in the supermarket, I have no problem retaliating with vigor, sometimes using the aforementioned profanity. I’m good at it, too. I can get nasty and aggressive in ways that few Christians could imagine and none could justify. Though I want to throttle Christians who use terrible names for people when they don’t like their lifestyle, somebody needs to throttle me when I give a look that could curdle milk to a stranger who took “my” parking place.
Once God revealed my hypocrisy, it made going to church easier. Church is a good place for people who are full of crap. Being a Christian means that you realize that you’re full of crap and that you need help. In fact, we should change the passing of the peace from “Peace be with you” to “You’re full of crap and so am I.”
Mike Yaconelli once said that church should be a place where we look at each other and say, “What are you doing here?” None of us is good enough to be there. Not one of us is righteous. Progressive types like me give more conservative Christians a hard time for being too “exclusive,” but we’re just as bad. We get just as easily annoyed and turn our backs on other children of God who don’t share our views. It’s so much easier to be snide than vulnerable. It’s much safer to be sarcastic than expose my heart to someone I don’t like. But once I stopped thinking of myself as too cool and took the time to get to know those I’d been judging, I made a shocking discovery. I like other Christians. They might act nutty during worship, their beliefs might be too stinking rigid, and they might even dress goofy, but I love those folks. They made me laugh, brought me joy, and showed me love. That last one humbled me big time.
Yes, Christians are irritating. We can all be weird, ridiculous, stupid, and mean. I’m a good example. That’s why we have to rely on God to clear our vision, change our hearts, and stop us from being ridiculous, stupid, and mean (I don’t think God cares so much about the weird part). If we let God fill us with His love rather than trusting our own assumptions, we will begin to love those who annoy us. We can go from being full of crap to full of grace and love. We can get over ourselves and the little things that divide us, learning to see each other as God does. And God loves that person who irritates me just as much as He loves me. If I can remember that, maybe I won’t be so full of crap.
Read February’s God on the Ground.