When my husband came to faith in Jesus, he got the idea that really good Christians didn’t poop. Or pee.
You have to know he was 18 at the time. He was a member in good standing of his high school’s audio-visual team, student council and chess club. I say this to highlight the fact that he was (and is) a very bright guy. He attended a Unitarian church for a while during his childhood, but had no first-hand experience with evangelicals to that point in his life. In fact, no one ever shared their faith with him. On his own during the fall of 1972, he read a tract, then read the gospel of Matthew in three days’ time. At some point during that process, he surrendered himself to his Savior.
When he found his way to church sometime after that, he drew some conclusions about what a good Christian was like. Apparently, he picked up the notion that Christians mastered their impurities in such a way that they no longer produced any. Growing in holiness meant fewer trips to the loo, apparently.
There’s been a lot of push-back in recent years against the evangelicalism of a generation ago. A steady stream of memoirs and blogs tell a story of living in the “found” fold, then getting lost in an odd inversion of Amazing Grace’s moment-of-crisis experience of faith – an experience at the core of the evangelical expression in the big “C” Church. Some of those storytellers find their way back to faith, but rarely return to the churches of their youth. Some never return to any church – or faith.
For every person who writes a blog post or memoir on the subject, there are thousands more who tell their story of faith with their choices. While there’s been plenty of analysis and angst about people of all ages migrating away from the church over the Big Issues of our day like politics, social change, or unnecessary rigidity, I suspect there are many who fade away because they can’t imagine that the exemplars in their local church ever go to the bathroom.
I had a similar experience to that of my husband when I first started attending church regularly in the late 1970’s from my own unchurched background. I never really thought about the pee/poop issue, but I recall some of my first impressions of corporate Christian life included the following observations:
- The best Christians were in full-time ministry. It was (obviously) a reward for their excellent practice of their faith.
- Even better-than-the-best Christians were missionaries.
- The best Christians did not listen to Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, or Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They listened to Evie. Borderline good Christians on their way to holiness might listen to John Denver, but the buck stopped there.
- The best Christians were at church every time the doors opened.
- The best Christians didn’t drink, smoke, or swear. They always voted Republican.
- The best Christian women kept their mouths shut.
- The best Christian women also wore tasteful A-line skirts to church. Not jeans.
- Sex? Um. Uh. Err. Nice weather we’re having today.
- If they weren’t in full-time ministry, the second-best Christian men were bosses in corporations, and kept their Bibles on their desk. Guys in the trades were obviously less-intelligent, which equated to being less spiritual, unless the pastor’s toilet was clogged and he needed a cheap plumber. Of course, pastor’s toilet never would get clogged, since (obviously) no one ever pooped at his house.
When people are shaking off a graceless, impossible church-ish experience of faith, it is tempting to blame everything from a decaying culture to the great falling away marking the end of days. It’s not so easy to put ourselves under the blame microscope, but it is where we belong. I appreciate that there’s been a pendulum swing toward greater authenticity (Christians really do poop!) in many quarters of the Church, but newer versions of those old, mostly-unvoiced behavioral paradigms still linger among us like bad pizza. Still. Linger.
I long to see return from those who’ve wandered away from the church. I desire renewal, revival. I suspect many of you reading these words may share those desires. I’d like to suggest we do a bit of thinking about what it is we’re asking when we say we long for the return of those who’ve wandered away. Return to what? The church they left? Revival of what? The good ol’ days of A-line skirts? Under the microscope, we who have been left behind by the leavers may find that what needs to be revived is us. If we’ve supported with our presence, our funds, our silence, and our playing-along-to-make-nice these unhealthy expressions of church, we may need a bit of a spiritual colonic to purge us from what was so we are free here and now no longer to be church-ish, but to be the Church. Thankfully, our Great Physician is in the cleansing and healing business, which may look like revival in our lives.
In what ways did your early experiences in a local church form your idea of what a “good Christian” looked and acted like? Were those experiences ultimately helpful or harmful to your faith?
For more on this subject from a wiser mind than I, click here to read Dan Edelen’s words.
Image via Creative Commons 2.0 search.