As I was making my way through “Change the World” I kept finding that my every day experiences were mirroring things I was reading in Mike Slaughter’s words. For instance, in a section titled “Toxic Religion,” Mike talks about the story in John 5 where Jesus heals a man, tells him that if he has faith he should pick up his mat and walk. The man does, then the “toxic” comes in as the priests get their ecclesiastical panties in a wad and they proceed to fuss at this poor man for having the nerve to pick up the mat on the Sabbath (yea, I know, right? How dare this man have the audacity to not only get healed, but carry his own mat!!).
I think our senior pastor is a hoot – he has referred to our church meetings to discuss meetings and decide on when the next meeting will be as our “ecclesiastical wheels grinding away.” What a great analogy to something that I have been frustrated with for YEARS! It seems that sometimes we get in Jesus’ way with all of our “ecclesiastical wheel turning” such as putting rules above people. A great example is here at Huntersville UMC where we had, until very recently, a rule that did not allow food or drink in our worship center. Now, keep in mind that our worship center is a gymnasium. It is NOT a sanctuary. And, yet, we were not allowing a simple thing such as a coffee cup with a lid into the room. If you were coming into our church for the first time with your reusable coffee mug full of delicious coffee and someone looked at you and said, “I’m sorry, you’re not allowed to bring that in here,” would you stay? Me either.
Just the other night we held a meeting which ended up with the result of planning another meeting. Why is it that “church people” feel such a strong need to have meetings, make rules, and put these things above the mission and ministry of Christ? It’s like we keep defeating our own purpose at every turn! Man does that frustrate me!
Mike Slaughter goes on in this “Toxic” section to mention that many who believe in God have a hard time believing that God believes in THEM. I see this at the AA meetings – these folks don’t feel worthy of God’s love based on their past actions. I imagine coming into a church would be overwhelming in that these folks may feel that they are being judged by you, by me, by everyone . . . including God. This is where “Toxic” can be “Deadly” – imaging these people, who need to see the grace of God lived out in us, the church members, come to our church and are told they can’t sit here or there, they can’t bring in their coffee, etc.? Personally, I think the “ecclesiastical wheels” would do nothing but validate what this person was already feeling – that they are unworthy and unwanted in God’s church.
This is NOT what we want as a body of Christ. We want (or, at least we SHOULD want) all who enter these doors to feel as though they are home . . . to feel welcome and loved unconditionally. The wheels continue to grind, so how do we stop the grind and focus on the PERSON instead? How do we pull away from the toxic rules and protocol and, instead, turn toward the holy and the inclusivity?