Sunday, November 14, 2010
"Do You Really Want to Know?"
“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.