Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Do You Really Want to Know?"

I was 24, working in Texas. I was walking to my office when I passed a new colleague in the hallway. “How’s it going?” I said causally as I walked by, more of an acknowledgement than a real question.

“Do you really want to know?” she asked.

The question stopped me cold. Simple politeness had become an opening into something else. I turned back and said, “Well, sure.” I was embarrassed.

And she proceeded to pour out a story that was stunning. She had become the guardian for a dearly beloved aunt, who would today be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The aunt was wealthy, and the adopted son was none too pleased that my friend was the guardian, because he was trying to have his mother institutionalized, which terrified her. So he was, in effect, stalking and following my friend, attempting to frighten or threaten her into walking away.

To make matters worse, in going through her aunt’s papers, she learned why her aunt was so afraid of being institutionalized, because she had gained a lot of her wealth form a lifetime of having elderly friends committed after gaining control of their estates.

All of this came out in a torrent of tears. I did the only thing I knew to do. I listened. I asked questions. It was hard to imagine that what I was hearing was true, but it was. She became and stayed a good friend of mine and my wife’s for the next four years, until we moved to St. Louis.

In Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, Michael Spencer talks about all of the formulaic statements (“How’s it going?”) that we use in the place of honesty in the church. And it’s more than what we say to each other when we are in Fellowship Hall between services or chatting briefly before Sunday School starts. “Social conventions, corporate culture, and the customs of casual human relationships all require that we sacrifice a good deal of honesty,” he writes. “We’re expected to smile, nod, and utter glob and meaningless comments every day.”

As Spencer indicates, that applies across the board, not just to churches. But he goes on to point out that this is perhaps why religion is so appealing to so many.

“Religion provides a blanket of insulation for those who are happy to go along with the superficial social conventions,” he says. “Religion tells us how to act sand what to say at life’s difficult moments. Religion often provides a script of polite, stoic, pious, and acceptable behavior to insert into moments of great questioning, pain, and disappointment.”

Then comes the challenge: to pursue an unscripted, honest life. This is what we were made for, and this is what each of us actually longs for. If we don’t find it in our churches, we will look elsewhere.

“Church has done one thing that has helped us,” he writes. “We now feel the emptiness in our souls, and we have realized that we need to find the real gospel, the honest Savior, and the promised life of the Spirit.”

And if someone asks us “Do you really want to know?”, we should say yes because we want to, not because we’re caught in an embarrassing moment.

Nancy Rosback over at Nancy Marie has been leading us in a discussion of Mere Churchianity. Also see Fatha Frank’s postings at Public Christianity and Melo’s post at In Silence, Humming Softly.


Cassandra Frear said...

One of my lifetime commitments is to be "the friend who is there." Fully present. I'm amazed at how difficult this is.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I like much of what is said here, particularly Michael Spencer's thought at the end on our eyes being open to our great need. I think N.T. Wright's new book on virtue speaks an important word here. We are to live as those in Jesus in anticipation of all that is to be fulfilled in him in the new creation which begins now, a humble beginning to be sure. We do so as those not having arrived, but certainly in process. So that while it may seem unreal, we seek to live in the true reality in Jesus. So that it's not about either being our real selves, or simply following protocol as in rules, even God's rules. But something of both begins to become a part of who we are, as we seek to live out what we are in Jesus, no longer darkness, but light in the Lord.

Having said all that, it is refreshing when we can be honest with each other. I think such honesty promotes honesty with God, and honesty with God promotes honesty with others. But there are not many safe places I'm afraid with the latter.

n. davis rosback said... pursue an unscripted, honest life...we need to find the real gospel, the honest Savior, and the promised life of the Spirit.

Kathleen Overby said...

" to pursue an unscripted, honest life. This is what we were made for, and this is what each of us actually longs for."

Too true.

nance marie said...

i'm gonna ignore that i lost this weeks mere c. post, and just go on to the next chapter this weekend...and post it on the new blog.

i have been trying to get all of my photos onto flicker, which is why they i have it marked private, until i am done.
done with 2006
now on 2007